In early August 2018, a San Francisco jury awarded $289 million in damages to a groundskeeper diagnosed with a deadly disease. The disease allegedly came from a weedkiller, Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto Co. It was found during the trial that Monsanto was liable for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and that the company should have known how dangerous the herbicide glyphosate can be. After this verdict, however, there are still questions on what Monsanto Co. will now do to prevent this in the future.
Does Roundup Cause Cancer?
Despite the San Francisco jury verdict, there will not be any warning labels on Monsanto Co.’s Roundup or Ranger Pro weed-killing products in the near future. This is because a federal judge disallowed any warning requirements under California’s Proposition 65 law once he concluded that a “heavy weight of evidence” showed that glyphosate was safe.
A 2015 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer did find that glyphosate could be a cause of cancer in humans. However, there are studies done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other European medical entities that found it doesn’t cause cancer. Both the San Francisco jury and U.S. District Judge William Shubb of Sacramento had this information during the rulings this year.
In order to legally require Monsanto to include cancer warnings on its product labels that contained glyphosate, Shubb would have to conclude that the warnings were “purely factual and uncontroversial.” In a previous 1985 case, it was found that the government breaks the First Amendment by asking businesses to warn consumers unless there is no serious and factual dispute about the warning’s contents.
Shubb believes that the state’s proposed warnings would be “inherently misleading,” because it was based on evidence found by one international agency, while “apparently all other regulatory and governmental bodies have found the opposite.” Because of this, it might be found that the damages award could be excessive, and that despite Johnson’s pain and suffering, a few million dollars would be enough to teach Monsanto a lesson.