Roundup, a widely used herbicide embraced by farmers, gardeners, and landscapers for its effective weed-killing properties, has found itself at the center of a growing controversy. As scientific research unfolds, concerns have arisen regarding a potential link between Roundup and cancer. While the scientific community and regulatory agencies delve into this matter, a wave of litigation has emerged, with individuals seeking compensation for injuries allegedly caused by Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate. Although Monsanto and Bayer, the manufacturers behind Roundup, swear by its safety, Roundup lawsuits accuse the companies of failing to warn the public about the connection between glyphosate and cancer.
The Roundup Revolution
Roundup is the world’s most popular herbicide and has been a staple in agriculture, landscaping, and gardening for several decades. Developed by Monsanto in the 1970s, it quickly gained attention due to its effectiveness in eliminating unwanted weeds.
The composition of Roundup includes various agents, but its primary active ingredient is glyphosate. Glyphosate is a synthetic compound that inhibits the enzyme involved in plant growth, leading to the death of targeted weeds. Glyphosate works by interfering with a crucial enzyme called EPSP synthase, which is responsible for essential amino acids in plants. By inhibiting this enzyme, glyphosate disrupts the plant’s ability to grow and survive. This mechanism of action makes glyphosate highly effective in eradicating weeds.
Roundup’s versatility and effectiveness have made it a valuable tool for farmers in pre-planting weed control, post-harvest weed management, and as a desiccant to facilitate uniform crop drying. However, Roundup is not only employed in agricultural applications. Roundup is a popular choice among professionals and homeowners alike. The weedkiller is frequently used in residential, commercial, and public areas to control weeds in lawns, gardens, schools, and parks.
Health Risks Associated with Glyphosate
The manufacturers of Roundup, regulatory agencies, and scientists disagree on whether Roundup is carcinogenic.
Although studies have suggested a potential link between glyphosate exposure and various types of cancer, the Environmental Protection Agency has not labeled glyphosate as a known human carcinogen. Additionally, Bayer and Monsanto vehemently defend Roundup and deny any health risks associated with the weedkiller.
In 2015, a notable study published by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. The IARC reached this classification after assessing over 1,000 published scientific studies demonstrating an association between glyphosate exposure and an increased risk of developing cancer. The agency concluded there was “strong” evidence suggesting genotoxicity for pure glyphosate and glyphosate formulations. A genotoxin is a chemical capable of destroying DNA, which could result in genetic mutations and cancer.
The IARC’s determination prompted further investigation into the safety of Roundup. Research conducted by the University of Washington and published in 2019 revealed that exposure to Roundup increases the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by 41%.
These findings have fueled the ongoing debate surrounding Roundup.
Manufacturers Involved in Roundup Lawsuits
In 1974, the agrochemical company Monsanto brought glyphosate to the market under the name Roundup. However, Bayer, a German multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, acquired Monsanto for $63 billion. Lawsuits target both companies for allegedly failing to warn the public about the cancer risks of Roundup.
Injuries in Roundup Claims
While the Roundup warning label does caution users to avoid getting the weedkiller in their eyes or on their clothing, the product lacks any indication that chronic exposure could lead to cancer. Plaintiffs argue they developed certain cancers after regularly applying the herbicide, including:
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- B-cell lymphoma
- Multiple myeloma
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) originates in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system. This form of cancer is characterized by the abnormal growth of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell responsible for fighting infections. While NHL cases constitute a significant portion of the Roundup litigation, individuals have filed lawsuits alleging other types of cancer related to glyphosate exposure.
Roundup on the Market
Monsanto and Bayer refute any connection between Roundup and cancer. But, in 2021, the companies announced they would no longer sell Roundup containing glyphosate in the U.S. residential market for non-professional gardeners. Glyphosate formulations of Roundup would only be available for farmers beginning in 2023. The companies reiterated that Roundup is safe and decided to omit glyphosate in Roundup for residential users based solely on a legal standpoint.
Roundup Multidistrict Litigation
Shortly after the IARC added glyphosate to its list of possible human carcinogens, individuals began filing the first Roundup lawsuits in 2015.
As Roundup lawsuits mounted nationwide, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated Roundup cases into MDL No. 2741 in October 2016. Lawsuits pending under MDL No.2741 allege Roundup, particularly its active ingredient glyphosate, is responsible for plaintiffs’ non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Additionally, these claims posit that “glyphosate in conjunction with other ingredients, in particular the surfactant polyethoxylated tallow amine (POEA), renders Roundup even more toxic than glyphosate on its own.”
The JPML transferred these federal Roundup cases to the Northern District of California and assigned the Honorable Vince Chhabria to preside over the proceedings.
Status of Roundup Litigation
As of August 2023, 4,222 Roundup lawsuits were pending in multidistrict litigation. Although Monsanto/Bayer settled over 100,000 Roundup lawsuits, approximately 30,000 cases are still underway in state courts outside the MDL.
While Monsanto/Bayer won their seventh bellwether trial in a row in May 2023, attorneys will be closely watching the upcoming Roundup trials set to take place in the fall.
Roundup Lawsuits Settlements and Verdicts
Three landmark Roundup trials led Monsanto and Bayer to agree to settle over 100,000 cases in June 2020.
First, a state court trial in 2018 involved a 46-year-old groundskeeper who often sprayed Roundup at a school in San Francisco. The plaintiff believed his repeated exposure to Roundup was responsible for his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Ultimately, the jury awarded the plaintiff $289.2 million, but a court later reduced this to $78.5 million. Next, the first bellwether trial in the MDL resulted in an $80.2 million verdict for a couple in Sonoma County, California, who had applied Roundup at their exotic animal refuge since the 1980s. Finally, a third trial in 2019 produced a substantial $2.055 billion for a couple diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after spraying Roundup at their house and other properties.
Following these three pivotal trials, Monsanto/Bayer struck a deal to settle 75% of Roundup lawsuits, or approximately 125,000 cases, for over $10 billion. However, many claimants were not included in this settlement, leaving the companies to battle roughly 30,000 remaining lawsuits in state and federal court. The companies failed to gain approval for a $2 billion settlement for future Roundup cancer claims.
In June 2023, Bayer and Monsanto reached a $6.9 billion Roundup settlement with the Attorney General of New York for allegedly making false and misleading claims regarding the safety of glyphosate.