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California Roundup Warning Label Blocked By Federal Judge

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A federal judge has determined that an injection will remain in place, preventing the state of California from requiring Roundup and other glyphosate-based weedkiller products from carrying label warnings about the potential cancer risks. 

After the state attempted to overturn a preliminary injection during a hearing on June 11, U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb issued a memorandum and order (PDF), indicating that the California Attorney General has not shown that the court clearly erred or that the injection is manifestly unjust, and rejected new arguments to alter or amend the injunction.

Last July, glyphosate was added to the state’s Prop 65 list, 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.

The state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, and Lauren Zeise, director of the OEHHA, filed a motion to alter or amend a preliminary injunction that blocked the warning from going into effect issued in February. However, Judge Shubb denied the motion, saying that the requirement raises questions about First Amendment rights that still need to be answered.

The judge noted that the injunction was put in place because the warning the state called for “was not purely factual and uncontroversial under the First Amendment,” and said that alternatives suggested in the latest motion by the state did not dispel those concerns.

Monsanto and a number of agricultural industry groups are fighting the Roundup label requirement in both state and federal courts. The National Association of Wheat Growers is the lead plaintiff in the federal litigation.

On April 19, California’s Fifth Appellate District Court determined that the state can require that glyphosate-based pesticides like Roundup be listed as probable carcinogens on the California’s Proposition 65 list, which would require the widely used weedkiller to carry cancer warnings when sold in the state. However, the state and federal cases are proceeding separately.

Monsanto and the other agricultural groups, including the National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, the Western Plant Health Association and others, have indicated they disagree with the IARC’s findings and say that California’s decision is not backed up by scientific facts.

Shubb still has to make a final determination on the validity of the label warnings. However, he cautioned that his rulings should not be interpreted as a judgment on whether Roundup or other glyphosate-based products are cancer-causing agents. However, he questioned the weight of evidence brought forward by the state.

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.

The first state court Roundup trial is set to begin today, involving a man who was granted an expedited trial date due to his grave medical condition.

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Photo Courtesy of Mike Mozart via Flickr Creative Commons

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