The State of California can't put a cancer warning on the world's best-selling herbicide, Monsanto's Roundup, according to a federal court order issued on February 27, 2018, the Mercury News reports.
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California decided last year to classify glyphosate, Roundup's main ingredient, as a "known cause of cancer." But Senior District Judge William Shubb, who sits on the US District Court for the Eastern District of California, says that terminology of that kind on Roundup's warning label would be "false and misleading."
Judge Shubb issued a preliminary injunction, blocking California from requiring new warnings on glyphosate-containing products, but stopped short of preventing the State from adding glyphosate to its list of "known carcinogens."
California takes its cancer risk cues from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization considered by many experts to represent the gold standard in the study of cancers. In 2015, the international health group listed glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic," citing a particular concern for the chemical's link to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
IARC's classification triggered California's Proposition 65, which requires warnings on all products that State officials believe have been shown, through sufficient medical evidence, to be carcinogenic. Almost immediately, California's proposal was challenged in court.
A group of industry interests, from Monsanto to wheat and corn growers associations to a consortium of herbicide sellers, filed suit, arguing that the case against glyphosate is far from settled.
That's undoubtedly true. IARC's initial classification of glyphosate as a carcinogen set off a firestorm of controversy, drawing the agrochemical industry, international regulatory agencies and members of the public into a protracted battle.
Several countries, including France and Sri Lanka, have announced plans to prohibit the use of glyphosate entirely, but major reports out of the US Environmental Protection Agency and European Union have disputed the classification of glyphosate as a carcinogen.
Last November, member states of the EU voted to renew glyphosate's commercial license, allowing for the chemical's continued distribution and sale for another five years.
Now, a federal judge in California has ordered the State to hold off on labeling glyphosate-based products as "known" cancer-causing agents. In his order, Judge William Shubb argues that, in line with the dictates of Supreme Court precedent, any State-mandated disclosures should be restricted to information that is "purely factual and uncontroversial."
But glyphosate's link to cancer remains extremely controversial, the Judge says. As such, any warning applied to the label for Roundup would likely confuse the average consumer, Judge Shubb concluded, writing that a "reasonable consumer would not understand that a substance is 'known to cause cancer' where only one health organization had found that the substance in question causes cancer."
To many consumers, the Judge continues, that statement would strongly suggest that glyphosate's connection to cancer is an "undisputed fact." The reality is far different, Judge Shubb wrote, since many regulatory bodies have contested IARC's classification. "Under these facts," the Judge said, "the message that glyphosate is known to cause cancer is misleading at best."
In the aftermath of Judge Shubb's order, officials for the California Office of Environment Health Hazard Assessment stood behind their decisions. Sam Delson, a spokesperson for the agency, told reporters at the Des Moines Register, "we are pleased that the listing of glyphosate remains in effect, and we believe our actions were lawful."
It's unclear whether or not the Office will appeal the ruling.
Meanwhile, thousands of Roundup lawsuits remain pending in a range of federal and state courts across the country.
In their claims, nursery workers, life-long farmers and landscapers have joined together with home gardeners to accuse Monsanto of failing to warn the public of glyphosate's link to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Nearly 400 federal Roundup lawsuits are now consolidated in the US District Court of California.
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