A federal judge in San Francisco has given the green light to Roundup lawsuits, allowing hundreds of lawsuits filed over the best-selling weedkiller's link to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma to proceed to trial, NBC News reports. The decision, announced on July 10, 2018 by US District Judge Vince Chhabria, clears the path for plaintiffs to present expert testimony at trial.
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Thousands of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patients and families have filed lawsuits against Monsanto in federal and state courts across the country. Judge Chhabria is presiding over more than 400 of these cases, which have been consolidated in the Judge's US District Court for the Northern District of California. As a consolidated litigation, the cases have moved through pre-trial proceedings as a group.
Judge Chhabria's opinion ends a dispute begun by Monsanto, the suit's defendant, who argued that three cancer experts testifying on behalf of plaintiffs should not be allowed to provide evidence at trial.
Judge Chhabria held a week-long science session in March to hear the evidence for and against the link to cancer. And, while Chhabria says the evidence in favor of the plaintiffs' argument is "rather weak," it's not "junk science" either. The evidence, Judge Chhabria concluded, deserves to be heard by a jury.
Global medical authorities are split on whether Roundup's active ingredient - a chemical called glyphosate - can cause cancer. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as a "probable human carcinogen," setting off a firestorm of controversy in the medical community, with experts lining up on both sides of the debate.
Plaintiffs have engaged a number of cancer experts, including Beate Ritz, a UCLA epidemiologist, who told Judge Chhabria during hearings that her own review of the medical literature led her to conclude that glyphosate and weedkillers made from it can cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. And she critiqued a 2017 study from the National Institutes of Health, which had found no link between glyphosate and lymphoma, saying it had major flaws.
Of course, Monsanto brought in its own experts. Harvard's Lorelei Mucci, a cancer epidemiologist, defended the 2017 National Institutes of Health study. "When you look at the body of epidemiological literature on this topic," Mucci told Judge Chhabria, "there's no evidence of a positive association between glyphosate and NHL risk."
Both Ritz and Mucci will be allowed to testify at trial, according to Judge Chhabria's July 10 ruling.
Roundup was first introduced in 1974. At the time, Monsanto presented the weedkiller as a major breakthrough, one that could easily eradicate unwanted plants without causing harm to people or the environment. Many studies completed over the intervening 4 decades, however, have shown otherwise, turning up evidence that prolonged exposure to glyphosate increases cancer risks.
Most regulatory officials have been unconvinced by the evidence in favor of a link between glyphosate and cancer. Despite the protests of member nation France, the European Union's health organization approved a new commercial license for glyphosate, allowing the chemical to remain in circulation in Europe. And the United States Environmental Protection Agency continues to stand behind glyphosate's safety, maintaining that the chemical cannot cause cancer when used as directed.
Plaintiffs have attacked these decisions, accusing Monsanto of exerting undue control over regulators' thinking, crafting fraudulent studies in support of glyphosate's use and ignoring the warnings of independent researchers.
Internal corporate documents uncovered during court proceedings appear to show high-level Monsanto executives actively attempting to "combat" unfavorable test results. At one point, product lead Donna Farmer advises her team that "you cannot say that Roundup does not cause cancer" in publicly discussing the science.
One lawsuit on the topic has already gone to trial, according to The Guardian. Court proceedings are currently underway in San Francisco, where a father of three, exposed to glyphosate repeatedly during his time as a school groundskeeper, accuses Monsanto of concealing the risks of Roundup for decades. Diagnosed at the age of 42, in 2014, the plaintiff has only months to live, doctors say.
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