Last month, Costco became the first major retailer to stop carrying Monsanto’s blockbuster herbicide Roundup. The international wholesaler’s decision to suspend Roundup sales is not only one of the most significant blows dealt to Monsanto and its parent company Bayer outside the courtroom so far, it could also indicate a larger trend happening around the world.

Costco is one of the largest retailers in the world, second only to Walmart. The company is known for its ability to stay on top of consumer trends and for its prowess in vetting merchandise for quality and safety. So it may be no surprise that it’s distancing itself from Roundup, given the outcome of the first Monsanto trials in the U.S. All three of them resulted in massive plaintiff awards, including a $2 billion award for a California couple who suffers from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after years of Roundup exposure.

None of those lawsuits went after retailers who sold Roundup to consumers, but that could change in the future if stores knowingly continue to market and sell a product that is widely regarded as toxic to human health. Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target, and others might consider following Costco’s lead if they hope to avoid litigation in the future.

Costco’s decision to stop selling Roundup reflects the emerging picture of a world that is largely trying to rid itself of glyphosate, Roundup’s active chemical ingredient, and the threats associated with its use. Roundup is still the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. and overseas, but that is slowly starting to change.

Last month, the government of Austria voted to ban the use of glyphosate, setting the stage for other E.U. member nations to follow suit.

“We want to be a role model for other countries in the EU and the world,” said Erwin Preiner, a member of the Austrian parliament, who worked on the proposed ban, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Some critics of Austria’s glyphosate law say a ban is illegal because the chemical has been cleared for sale and use throughout the European Union until 2022. Legislators who wrote the law, however, reject that argument, saying that other EU nations have banned specific substances. The EU has until October to object to Austria’s anti-Roundup measures.

Instead of proposing an outright ban, leaders of other EU nations have expressed their intent to phase out all glyphosate use in the near future, including Bayer’s home country Germany.

German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze last fall proposed a plan to gradually phase glyphosate out of use. Deutsche Bahn AG, Germany’s public railway operator and the largest consumer of glyphosate, said it is researching alternatives to combat weeds along its 20,500 miles of tracks.

“Things are developing, and we will eventually come to a point where glyphosate isn’t deployed any more,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers in June.

President Emmanuel Macron of France also has pledged to phase glyphosate out of use. France is the EU’s largest producer of grain, which is where most of its Roundup consumption goes. He also plans to make France’s vineyards the first glyphosate-free vineyards in the world within three years.

Colombia and El Salvador completely banned glyphosate even before the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the chemical as a probable human carcinogen in 2015. Several other countries are also considering nationwide bans.

Although the U.S. has not banned Roundup on the federal level, cities in several states have taken measures to restrict or ban its use.

In April 2019, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS)’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released the results of another highly anticipated Roundup study. The 257-page Draft Toxicological Profile for Glyphosate assessed rodent studies and human epidemiologic research, concluding that glyphosate exposure increased the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) and multiple myeloma.

Bayer continues to deny assertions that Roundup poses any risks, despite the findings of about 1,000 scientific studies indicating a link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other serious diseases.

Beasley Allen is are investigating cases involving non-Hodgkin lymphoma related to the commercial application of Roundup/glyphosate. For more information, contact John Tomlinson, Andrew Banks or Rhon Jones in our Toxic Torts Section.

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