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Roundup License Renewal Vote Fails in EU, Increasing Likelihood of Glyphosate Ban Amid Safety Concerns

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The European Union moved closer to a ban on glyphosate-based weed killers last week, due to growing concerns that side effects of exposure to Roundup and similar herbicides may include an increased risk of cancer. 

On Thursday, the European Commission took a vote on whether to renew glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, for only five years, instead of the normal ten year period. However, the renewal failed when only 14 of the 28 voting members agreed to allow the chemical to remain on the market in the European Union. Nine members voted against, and five abstained, resulting in insufficient support to secure renewal.

The European Commission, which reduced the original 10-year renewal to five years in hopes of reaching consensus while researchers continued to study the controversial weedkiller, has said it will send a new proposal to an appeals committee before the end of the month. However, the license expires December 15, after which a de facto ban on all glyphosate-based products, including Roundup, would go into effect.

The commission also faces a petition for an outright ban by 1.3 million of its citizens, as part of an effort organized by Greenpeace. The environmental activist organization issued a press release after the vote, saying they expect the appeals committee to vote against the renewal as well.

“The Commission is trying to ram through a new glyphosate license despite massive scandals surrounding its main maker and the EU’s own risk assessment,” Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU food policy director, said in the press release. “A new licenses is a new license, regardless of its length. If the Commission continues to allow this toxic chemical to contaminate our soils, water, food and bodies, it is simply rewarding Monsanto for obscuring the dangers linked to its weedkiller. The EU needs to ban it now, not in three, five or ten more years.”

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 courts nationwide in the U.S., filed by individuals who say they contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other forms of cancer following years of Roundup exposure.

While most of the response in the U.S. has been focused around litigation, many of the key European Union nations, such as France, have pushed for the herbicide to be banned from all use.

In late October, the European Parliament voted 355 to 204 in favor of a glyphosate ban in a non-binding vote, with 111 members abstaining.

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 in December 2017, 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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