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Glyphosate Weedkiller Cancer Warnings in California Temporarily Blocked by Judge

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A federal judge has temporarily blocked the state of California from requiring Monsanto to place warning labels about the cancer risks associated with exposure to Roundup and other glyphosate-based weedkillers. 

In a memorandum and order (PDF) issued on February 26, U.S. District Judge William Shubb granted a motion for preliminary injunction filed by Monsanto and a number of agricultural associations, preventing the state from moving forward with the required glyphosate weed killer warnings, which were set to go into effect under the state’s Proposition 65 listing requirements.

In his decision, Judge Shubb said the ruling was based on the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to conclude that glyphosate is a carcinogen, indicating that the conflict between the EPA and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) makes the label warning misleading, because it implies that the link between glyphosate and cancers, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is a proven fact.

The injunction is temporary, while a lawsuit filed over the decision moves forward through the court system. However, the order does not prevent the state of California from keeping glyphosate on its Proposition 65 list of carcinogenic substances.

Glyphosate was added to the state’s Prop 65 list last July 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 IARC decided to classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in mid-2015.

However, Monsanto and the other plaintiffs, including the National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, the Western Plant Health Association and a number of others representing agricultural interests, disagree with the IARC’s findings and say that California’s decision is not backed up by scientific facts.

The EPA recently denied in its own review that glyphosate is a cancer-causing agent, but the agency’s stance on the chemical has been in question following the revelation of the “Monsanto Papers”, which is the name given to a number of damning internal documents from Monsanto, which were revealed as part of the ongoing U.S. litigation against Monsanto by farmers, landscapers and other individuals who indicate they developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following Roundup exposure.

The memos and emails suggest that the company has known that its herbicide might be dangerous for years, put out ghostwritten studies that were falsely portrayed as the work of independent scientists, and unduly influenced regulators in the U.S. and Europe to avoid any indication that Roundup is not safe. The company even went as far as writing some parts of the safety reviews for regulators, and asked them to squash government inquiries that they could not write themselves, some of the documents suggest.

Roundup Cancer Lawsuits

Throughout the U.S., several thousand Roundup lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto by farmers, landscapers, agricultural workers and others regularly exposed to Roundup, alleging that they may have avoided a diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma or other cancer if warnings had been provided by Monsanto.

Since October 2016, all federal cases have been consolidated for pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California.

As part of the coordinated litigation, it is expected that a small group of bellwether trials will be prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the cases. However, if Monsanto fails to reach Roundup settlements or another resolution for the failure to warn cases, hundreds of individual lawsuits may eventually be remanded back to the federal courts where they were originally filed for an separate trial dates.

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