Every year, U.S. farmers, professional gardeners, greenhouse workers, and lawn and road maintenance crews spray about 250 million pounds of glyphosate – the active ingredient in brand name Roundup – on crops, nurseries, lawns, parks, and golf courses, making it the most widely used herbicide in the country. But decades of heavy reliance on glyphosate may be coming with an equally heavy price.
After decades of glyphosate use, real-life circumstances seem to corroborate independent studies that have linked glyphosate exposure to cancer, namely Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), in addition to a number of other human-health and environmental concerns.
Glyphosate was first developed by the Monsanto Corporation in 1970 and brought to market as a broad-spectrum herbicide in 1974. The sodium-based chemical forms the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. Today, glyphosate makes up more than 83 percent of the chemical herbicides used in the U.S.
Along with Roundup, Monsanto has also genetically engineered plants for resistance to glyphosate herbicide, thereby allowing crops to withstand applications of the weed-killing herbicide. Today, Monsanto has a monopoly on the U.S. soybean market; more than 90 percent of soybean crops are genetically engineered to survive Roundup applications.
In 2014, a study by French scientists linked occupational exposure of glyphosate to NHL, finding that people who work with or around the chemical were twice as likely to develop NHL. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) last year designated glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans, with NHL being the most likely form of cancer promoted by glyphosate exposure.
Because NHL encompasses a broad range of malignancies with multiple subtypes, diverse characteristics, and numerous actual and potential etiologies, further studies of glyphosate as a risk factor of NHL are being conducted to help determine which particular subsets of the cancer are associated with exposure.
Monsanto, of course, has disputed these scientific studies associating its herbicide with cancer, even going so far as hiring its own team of researchers to come up with different results. Two laboratories conducting glyphosate safety studies for Monsanto were cited for “routine falsification of data” and other offenses that cast a dubious show on their credibility.
A number of lawsuits against Monsanto have been filed by farmers and other workers alleging occupational exposure to Roundup caused them to develop NHL. In one case brought by three Nebraska farmers and an agronomist, all of whom developed NHL, the plaintiffs allege Monsanto “concealed or systematically sought to discredit” the dangers of Roundup.
“Monsanto championed falsified data and has attacked legitimate studies that revealed Roundup dangers,” the lawsuit alleges, adding that the corporation Monsanto led “a campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general population that Roundup is safe.”
Monsanto has moved to dismiss the lawsuits as preempted under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). However, in May, a federal judge in California rejected the motions, finding that the “mere fact that the EPA has approved a product label does not prevent a jury from finding that that same label violates FIFRA.