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Roundup License Renewal Passes in EU on Surprise German Vote Switch

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Concerns about the risk of cancer from Roundup has sparked a long-running stand-off in Europe over whether the weed killer’s active ingredient, glyphosate, should have its license renewed, which ended in dramatic fashion on Monday, with a five-year renewal agreement. 

The member states of the European Union held a binding vote this week on whether to extend the license for the glyphosate, in the face of strong opposition, due to the potential risk that it may increase the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other forms of cancer.

Monsanto, which manufacturers Roundup, faced a December 15 deadline to obtain renewal for the license, or the widely used herbicide would have been banned across the EU.

Previous attempts to extend the license for the standard 10-year period have failed, with the EU unable to reach the threshold of 16 member states approving the renewal. Even after the length of the extension was reduced to five years, the minimum number of member states were not in favor during prior votes.

In prior votes, Germany has abstained, citing the fact that the German-based Bayer is in the process of buying Monsanto, indicating that it was inappropriate to participate in a vote that so directly affected their country’s economy. However, Germany appears to have abandoned that moral high ground this week, in order to save the weed killer and avoid possible economic harm to one of Germany’s major corporations. Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania, who had all followed Germany’s lead in abstaining earlier, also followed the country’s vote, resulting in 18 votes in favor of a five year renewal.

Despite the EU extension, it appears that some countries are preparing to move forward with an eventual ban for the weedkiller anyway. French President Emmanuel Macron announced after the vote that France intends to ban glyphosate within the next three years, once an alternative weed killer is found. France accounts for about one-third of all agricultural land in the EU.

Additionally, the European Parliament, which voted to ban glyphosate in a non-binding resolution, still has to make a decision regarding a petition that also calls for a glyphosate ban bearing 1.3 million signatures of EU citizens.

Concerns over glyphosate came to the forefront in March 2015, when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared that glyphosate used in Roundup and other weedkillers was a probable carcinogen.

The move sparked world-wide concerns about why Monsanto failed to provide warnings and recommend safety precautions for users, and resulted in hundreds of Roundup lawsuits filed in U.S. courts nationwide, each involving similar claims by individuals who say they developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other forms of cancer following years of Roundup exposure.

The parliament and its environment committee noted that recent events raise questions about whether the EU Food Safety Agency (EFSA) or its chemical agency could be trusted to evaluate glyphosate following the release of documents suggesting they had been influenced by Monsanto.

In early October, all Monsanto lobbyists were banned from contacting EU Members of Parliament or attending committees after the company refused to attend a hearing on whether it had unduly influenced EU officials.

The meeting came after the release of documents, known as the “Monsanto Papers,” which suggest that Monsanto had a very substantial influence over regulators in the U.S. and Europe, and in some cases wrote portions of Roundup safety reviews.

The documents came to light as part of ongoing litigation in the U.S.

Roundup Cancer Lawsuits In the U.S.

Given the similar questions of fact and law presented in lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established consolidated pretrial proceedings for all federal Roundup cases in the American federal court system, centralizing the claims before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California to reduce duplicative discovery, prevent conflicting rulings and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

As part of the coordinated MDL proceedings, Judge Chhabria has previously determined that the Roundup litigation will be bifurcated, first addressing general causation about the link between the widely used weedkiller and non-Hodgkins lymphoma during a hearing next month, before addressing case-specific issues about whether Roundup caused cancer for each individual plaintiff.

Following resolution of any motions to dismiss based on general causation, if a Roundup settlement or other resolution for the litigation is not reached during the first phase of discovery, it is expected that Judge Chhabria will establish a bellwether process, where a small group of cases will be prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the lawsuits.

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