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Federal regulators under the Trump administration are trying to undercut efforts by the state of California to require new cancer warnings for Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announcing last week that it will not approve products that carry the label warning, despite mounting evidence that exposure to the popular weedkiller increases the risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other cancers.
The EPA sent a letter to registrants (PDF) on August 7, indicating that it would consider any Roundup cancer warnings to be “false and misleading,” after the agency’s analysis has found that glyphosate is not a cancer-causing agent. However, that decision has come under scrutiny in recent years, as evidence has emerged that the manufacturer of Roundup manipulated scientific studies and has unduly influenced federal regulators.
“Given EPA’s determination that glyphosate is ‘not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,’ EPA considers the Proposition 65 warning language based on the chemical glyphosate to constitute a false and misleading statement,” the EPA guidance states. “Therefore, EPA will no longer approve labeling that includes the Proposition 65 warning statement for glyphosate-containing products.”
The decision comes as the fate of California’s requirements for Roundup to carry cancer warning labels is still making its way through the federal court system. In February, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California issued a preliminary injunction barring the state from enforcing the Prop 65 labeling requirements.
The legal challenge came after glyphosate was added to the state’s Prop 65 list in July 2017 by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), which required Monsanto and other herbicide manufacturers to add a label warning to all weed killers containing glyphosate, indicating that it may be a cancer-causing agent.
The decision to add glyphosate to the list came after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen in mid-2015, leading to worldwide concerns about the link between Roundup and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Monsanto took the issue to federal court, after the California Supreme Court refused to reverse the state’s decision.
This latest move by the EPA is seen as an effort to undercut California’s ability to regulate potentially hazardous substances. While the agency claims it’s findings are in line with other regulatory agencies worldwide, it has been under a cloud of suspicion since documents revealed by ongoing litigation uncovered potentially undue influence by Monsanto, who wrote parts of supposedly government studies and even bragged of having the clout to get the EPA to kill studies that could show glyphosate in a negative light.
Some laboratories, which were supposed to be independent, were even prosecuted for providing false glyphosate data, such as one case where data on glyphosate safety was gleaned from the uteri of male rabbits.
While Monsanto attempted to dismiss the IARC report as “junk science,” and challenged the group’s validity and scientific methods at every turn, the Monsanto Papers reveal that the company’s own observer of the IARC’s review, Tom Sorahan, a professor at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., reported back that the IARC had done it right.
In addition, three U.S. juries who were presented testimony from experts on both sides have returned massive verdicts in recent months, indicating that Monsanto and Bayer should be required to pay tens of millions in damages for failing to warn about the known cancer risks associated with the Roundup products.
Roundup Settlement Discussions
The EPA letter comes as Bayer is facing increased pressure to settle Roundup lawsuits filed by more than 18,500 individuals nationwide diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma after exposure to glyphosate in the weedkiller.
After failing to convince U.S. juries that the weedkiller is safe, the company has been engaging in court ordered mediation to resolve failure to warn lawsuits pending throughout the U.S. Court system and Bayer’s stock price has dropped substantially in recent months, signaling the extent of liability investors expect the company may have to pay to resolve the litigation.
Last week, Bloomberg News reported that Bayer proposed a Roundup settlement between $6 and $8 billion. In response to the news, Bayer’s stock price rose sharply.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers are reportedly seeking substantially more to resolve pending and future claims, and the mediator appointed to preside over the negotiations has refuted the Bloomberg report, indicating that the parties have not exchanged figures yet.
Bayer was expected to face another trial this month in St. Louis, but the start of that case was suddenly postponed and the U.S. District Judge presiding over the federal litigation recently postponed several key deadlines, raising speculation that a Roundup settlement was near.