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Roundup Safety Hearing Results in Delayed EU Re-Licensing Vote

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A long-awaited vote on whether the risk of cancer from Roundup should result in the glyphosate-based weed killer losing it’s license in the European Union has been delayed. 

European Commission officials met in Brussels last week to discuss safety concerns over Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides, but did not hold an expected vote on whether to renew the 10-year license, which allows the chemical to be applied to crops across Europe. EU officials say that vote will take place before the end of the year, before the license officially expires.

Many thought the vote would take place sometime last Thursday or Friday, when the standing committee on plant animal food and feed (PAFF) met to discuss Roundup safety issues. The PAFF meets again on October 23, but a vote has not yet been announced for that meeting either.

At issue is whether the EU will renew the glyphosate license, or whether it will ban the use of Roundup and other glyphosate-based products across Europe. The debate follows a declaration by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in March 2015, which determined that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen, and specifically linked Roundup exposure to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Monsanto has attempted to dismiss or discredit the warning, defending the safety of Roundup and spending considerable effort to influence the debate among regulators and health experts.

Late last month, EU officials banned representatives from Monsanto from interacting with members of the EU or attending meetings, after Monsanto officials refused to attend an October 11 meeting that involved concerns of undue influence over safety reviews that looked into whether Roundup caused cancer.

Adding to Monsanto’s troubles is a recent announcement by French officials that they would vote against renewing the license, which some say makes the failure of the vote, and a Europe-wide glyphosate ban, a near certainty. However, French officials have recently said they are willing to entertain a shorter re-licensing period, instead of 10 years, while research into Roundup’s cancer risks continues.

In November 2015, the EFSA chimed in with its own findings, declaring that it was unlikely that glyphosate caused cancer. That report did suggest that an exposure limit may be necessary for human safety, and called for efforts to keep glyphosate out of human food. However, a recent report indicates that the EFSA’s findings were based on a renewal assessment report published that year, which contained dozens of pages that appear to have been directly copied from a paper submitted by the Glyphosate Task Force, an industry group formed and backed by Monsanto.

In addition, on August 1, a cache of internal memos and e-mails that are commonly referred to as the “Monsanto Papers” were released to the public, as part of the ongoing discovery process in Roundup lawsuits.

The litigation involves cases filed by hundreds of farmers, landscapers, agricultural workers and other regular users of the weedkiller, alleging that the manufacturer failed to adequately warn about the potential cancer risks and importance of taking safety precautions while spraying the weedkiller.

The documents suggest that Monsanto has worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to kill or delay reports critical of glyphosate, and its own scientists raised concerns about whether glyphosate may cause cancer. The documents also indicated that Monsanto has edited and ghostwritten both supposedly independent research papers which heralded glyphosate’s safety, and meddled with the content of federal safety reviews.

U.S. Roundup Litigation

Monsanto now faces hundreds of non-Hodgkins lymphoma lawsuits in the United States, each raising similar allegations that Roundup users may have avoided a cancer diagnosis if Monsanto had provided adequate warnings, and not taken steps to falsify data and mislead about the safety of the weedkiller.

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 October 2016, 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, 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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