US agrochemical giant Monsanto has been ordered by a court in California to pay $289 million damages to a man who claimed herbicides containing the chemical glyphosate directly caused his cancer.
In the landmark case the judge presiding over the one-month trial at a San Fransisco court ruled that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide caused, or significantly contributed to, the non-Hodgkin lymphoma form of cancer now suffered by 46-year-old former groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson.
The judge in the case said that Monsanto failed to warn to Johnson of the health hazards from occupational exposure to the product’s main ingredient, glyphosate. The jury additionally found that Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression”.
“We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that … Roundup could cause cancer,” Johnson’s lawyer Brent Wisner said in a statement.
Glyphosate is the world’s most common weedkiller and the science about its safety has been hotly disputed. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”, leading to growing international calls for glyphosate-containing herbicides to banned.
But the agrochemical industry, and some independent scientists, have strongly challenged the IARC’s view on glyphosate. Monsanto says it will appeal the Dewayne Johnson ruling, and the company’s vice president, Scott Partridge, told media outside the courthouse that “the jury got it wrong”.
Whatever the company says, the ruling will be deeply troubling for Monsanto. Another Roundup cancer trial is scheduled to begin in the autumn in St Louis, Missouri. And, according to Johnson’s lawyers, the company now facied more than 4,000 similar cases across the US.