For the first time, Monsanto is being taken to court over allegations it has hidden the health risks associated with its product Glyphosate, and will defend itself against a growing number of claims that allege Glyphosate causes cancer.
The first case to be presented to the courts, which started last month, is from DeWayne Johnson, an ex-grounds keeper at a school in America. Mr Johnson claims his cancer was caused by Glyphosate, which he used on a regular basis as part of his job.
Legal action was entirely predictable following a report by the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which stated Glyphosate “is probably carcinogenic to humans”.
Monsanto has strongly refuted these findings, and cited hundreds of sources, including the findings by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who support its defence. Monsanto has also dismissed the lack of scientific evidence from claimants, the numbers of whom now run into the thousands.
This first case has the potential to set a landmark precedent. It is likely to be fiercely contested from both sides and will not be a simple judgement. BALI will continue to report on the case as it progresses.
In the landscape…
Despite the re-authorisation of Glyphosate by the European Union in November 2017, several towns and cities in the UK and countries within Europe have chosen to adopt their own strategy of excluding Glyphosate from weed management.
The adoption of Glyphosate-free weed operations in the UK has been relatively small-scale to date, with towns including Frome, Glastonbury and Hammersmith & Fulham adopting policies either to ban Glyphosate entirely or terminate its use on parks and open spaces. All authorities cite health as the main driver behind the move and refer to the recent World Health Organisation report.
The decision, which has resulted in alternative treatment methods including hot foam and steam being used, appears to have been received with mixed feelings. Whilst environmental groups have celebrated the new approach to weed control, the decision does not appear to be universally welcomed. Residents have left comments on council webpages which suggest the new regime has resulted in less effective control of weeds in some areas.
The adoption of Glyphosate-free weed management within Europe is similarly fragmented, and not without debate. In France, the president has vowed a complete ban on Glyphosate- based herbicides within three years, despite French farmers accusing him of ‘killing French farming’ and protesting.
Further afield in Germany, earlier this year the agriculture minister advised she was drafting a regulation which aims to stop Glyphosate use in domestic gardens, parks and sports facilities and impose significant limits in agriculture.
Germany’s approach mirrors that already seen in other European countries. Italy has adopted a law prohibiting the use of Glyphosate in public areas such as parks, gardens and sports fields. The Netherlands has also banned sale of the weedkiller for non- commercial uses.
What is not immediately clear, however, is the success of non-Glyphosate weed control methods in practice. Most of us are aware of the alternative methods available (hot water, steam, foam, alternative chemicals, electrocution, mechanical), but how successful are they when used as the only method of weed control, and how cost effective are they?