Black Farmers Take On Monsanto’s Cancer-Causing Weed Killer
By Maria Bruzhayte
At 42 years of age, Dewayne Anthony Lee Johnson won a $78 million settlement against the Monsanto Company. Unfortunately, he won’t live long enough to spend it.
A work-related accident left Mr. Johnson drenched in a popular weed killer called Roundup. After developing rashes and lesions, Mr. Johnson learned that he had terminal cancer.
Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer, continues to make Roundup readily available for public use. In addition, they continue to sell the herbicide without any warning labels.
While California requires warning labels on products that contain glyphosate, the EPA considers the chemical safe. This prevents any states from adding labels based on their own restrictions.
Bayer appealed Johnson’s ruling, but the court refused to reduce the damages payout. Bayer believes that Roundup isn’t toxic to humans, but Mr. Johnson’s attorneys proved that Monsanto was aware of the risks.
They provided internal company documents which showed that Monsanto knew that the International Agency for Research on Cancer would classify the active ingredient as a possible carcinogen. The company failed to take any preventative measures putting farmers at risk.
Other lawsuits await trial in regards to Roundup’s cancer connection within the agricultural community.
The National Black Farmer Association brought a lawsuit on their own against Monsanto. They claim Monsanto didn’t warn the public over known health risks associated with Roundup.
Why did the National Black Farmer Association file the lawsuit?
The National Black Farmer Association is seeking to protect farmers by having Roundup removed from store shelves. Many of its members have been using Roundup for years and there’s concern about them developing cancer because of their exposure.
Both limited education and lack of internet access in rural communities leaves black farmers dependent on Monsanto’s salesmen to warn of any risks associated with Roundup. Given that Monsanto provides most of their seeds, farmers are likely to trust the information regarding their products.
Insufficient information and a blatant lack of safety warnings disproportionately hurt black farmers. Baeyer rejects the claims that Roundup has adverse effects on any racial demographic more than others.
The company said “Bayer worked to settle Roundup cases with hundreds of law firms… Any suggestion that claimants who are Black were treated differently in this process than others is completely false.”
While they may have been treated equally, they did not receive all of the information regarding the dangers of the product. Several court cases are still pending.
What are the dangers of this product?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies glyphosate, which is an active ingredient in Roundup, as a carcinogen. Several countries, including France and Canada, banned this herbicide because of its toxic properties.
Glyphosate is linked to cancer, reproductive issues, liver disease, and gut microbiota disruption. It also has a harmful effect on bees and monarch butterflies. Bayer denies that Roundup poses any danger to farmers who use it on their property. The lawsuits and million-dollar settlements show otherwise.
There are traces of glyphosate in honey, soy beans, wheat, flour, and cereal. The FDA tests food for glyphosate, but no government agency tests for how much of it makes its way into our food.
Monsanto stands by the safety of their products. They believe that the levels of glyphosate in crops is safe. Without accurate, consistent, and monitored testing there is no way to know for sure.
The EPA and FDA say that traces of pesticides in our food are “safe”, but many scientists believe otherwise. Linda Birnbaum, a toxicologist at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences said, “Do I think that levels that are currently set are safe? Probably not… A lot of our standard testing protocols, many that were developed 40 to 50 years ago, are not asking the questions we should be asking.”.
The mounting lawsuits prove that we need new standards of testing. While thousands still await trial, Bayer continues to sell Roundup.
What can we do to protect ourselves?
Education is the best way to spread awareness of toxic chemicals that cause health risks. Stay up to date with our blog by reading Wildfires Impact on Water. Learn more about our mission to keep pollutants from entering ecosystems. Consider signing up for a Beach Cleanup to help remove plastics that readily absorb heavy metals and other toxic substances from our beaches.
Author Bio: Maria Bruzhayte is a Los Angeles based writer, animator, and a contributor to the Ocean Blue Project blog.