The Science Behind the Roundup Lawsuit

The Science Behind the Roundup Lawsuit, by Steven Novella.

On August 10th a California jury awarded Dewayne Johnson $289 million dollars in damages against the company Monsanto (now owned by Bayer). The decision was based on the claim that Johnson (a greenskeeper) developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma because of his exposure to Roundup, an herbicide that contains the active ingredient glyphosate that was developed by Monsanto.

The decision will almost certainly be appealed, and is being widely criticized because it is not in line with the science. There is a long history of juries awarded damages based on flimsy science.

Dow Corning famously filed for bankruptcy following class action law suits for alleged damages due to silicone breast implants, while the science was still preliminary. The claim was that the breast implants were causing auto-immune disease, which the manufacturer denied. Juries found the women sympathetic, however, and companies rarely appear sympathetic in such trials. …

It seems we have a similar situation with Roundup and cancer, except the meta-analysis was published before the huge jury award, rather than after. The wrinkle here is that this and other lawsuits were likely sparked in part by the WHO decision in 2015 to classify glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen”. That decision was an outlier, however, and was immediately criticized. Several independent reviews of the WHO decision concluded that the decision was in error, and that the totality of evidence does not support the conclusion that there is any link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkins lymphoma specifically, or any cancer. …

According to reports of the case, Johnson’s attorney had to overcome the actual science showing glyphosate is safe and not associated with cancer. He did this by claiming that Roundup as a whole may cause cancer, even though glyphosate alone does not. While not impossible, this is an implausible claim that is still lacking in evidence. This was an act of simply moving the goalpost to avoid the more definitive scientific evidence. The ploy worked. …

Glyphosate is demonstrably far less toxic than the alternative herbicides. If glyphosate is banned, or rendered unusable because of unfair lawsuits and unscientific jury verdicts, an important agricultural option will be eliminated – not because of science or because it’s the right thing, but out of fear and ignorance.

Reasonable people can argue and disagree about the optimal role of glyphosate and other herbicides in agriculture, and that is not the point of this article. But agricultural decisions should be based on a consensus view of the science, not the emotions of 12 jurors who clearly wanted to punish Monsanto regardless of what the science says.

The whole thing has a sort of lefty vibe to it. It follows the (left’s) truthiness and comes to the PC conclusion, rather than sticking to the data. Much like the carbon dioxide theory of global warming.

hat-tip Matthew