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General Mills faces a class action lawsuit over levels of the weed killer Roundup detected in Cheerios cereal, which are promoted as healthy and free of dangerous chemicals.
In a complaint (PDF) filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Mounira Doss seeks damages for herself and other consumers who purchased Cheerios or Honey Nut Cheerios in the United States.
The lawsuit comes after a recent study examined levels of glyphosate in products made using oats. The study indicated that numerous products, such as breakfast foods and snack bars, contained relatively high levels of the active ingredient from the weedkiller Roundup. Samples of General Mills’ Cheerios cereal found glyphosate levels ranging from 470 parts per billion (ppb) to 530 ppb.
Exposure to Roundup and glyphosate have been linked to potential health concerns, including an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other forms of cancer. These concerns first gained widespread attention after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen in 2015.
In February 2016, the FDA indicated it would begin looking for glyphosate in U.S. food products, but stopped just months later, without issuing any findings. However, internal documents revealed that the agency has found glyphosate in honey and other products.
The recent study cited in the General Mills class action lawsuit was conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), involving an independent laboratory that tested 45 samples from conventional oat-based products. Glyphosate was detected in 43 of the samples, with 31 exceeding 160 parts per billion (ppb), which is the level EWG considers protective of children’s health with an adequate margin of safety.
The lawsuit accuses General Mills of deceiving consumers about the safety and purity of Cheerios, which is commonly fed to children.
“Glyphosate is even more dangerous for children, whose bodies are more sensitive to exposure, leaving them more vulnerable to carcinogens,” Doss’s lawsuit states. “Had Plaintiff known that Cheerios contained glyphosate, she would never have purchased them.”
Roundup Cancer Lawsuits
The lawsuit also comes on the heels of a $289 million verdict in a product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of Roundup by a California man dying of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In that case, the jury determined that Monsanto was liable for former school groundskeeper DeWayne Johnson’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis, and slapped the company with massive punitive damages for its actions in failing to warn the public of the potential health risks.
Monsanto faces thousands of similar Roundup lawsuits in the United States, involving claims that agricultural workers, farmers and even home gardening enthusiasts developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnoses following exposure to glyphosate contained in the weedkiller.
In addition other to cases pending in California state court and Missouri state court, where Monsanto’s headquarters are located, all cases filed in the federal court system are current centralized as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California.
Weeks before the Johnson verdict, Judge Chhabria dealt another major blow to Monsanto, ruling that plaintiffs in the federal litigation had presented sufficient evidence about the non-Hodgkins lymphoma risk from Roundup to survive summary judgment. As a result, the federal litigation will proceed to a bellwether trial phase, where a small group of representative cases will be selected to go before juries, to help gauge the relative strengths and weaknesses of different fact patterns that may be common across large numbers of cases.
Monsanto was recently acquired by Bayer in June 2018, and the company has indicated that it plans to get rid of the Monsanto brand name.