Concern about the safety of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide is ricocheting across the globe after a U.S. court found the agrochemical and seed company guilty of causing terminal cancer in a former groundskeeper who used the product on a regular basis.
The California jury awarded DeWayne Johnson $289 million for the non-Hodgkin lymphoma – a fatal blood cell cancer - he says came from working with the popular herbicide for several years.
The jury says Monsanto "acted with malice" in promoting the product and took inefficient measures in warning customers about the risk despite the World Health Organization classifying the chemical as a probable carcinogen several years ago. The jury said the company new about the product's cancer connection "for decades" -- even before the WHO warning in 2015.
The ruling raised questions about the chemical's approval in Europe. But last week the EU renewed its approval of glyphosate for five years, despite contentious debates over its safety in the last few years. The EU has restricted the use of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids because of their link to declining bee populations. But because of the recent approval, it won't be able to shift its position until 2022.
Now, Greenpeace is urging Australia to ban sales of the weedkiller. Roundup is widely available throughout Australia and the environmental organization says the government needs to take "urgent action" to protect Australians from the weedkiller.
Despite the court's decision, Monsanto’s vice president, Scott Partridge, insists on the product's safety, saying last week that the “verdict doesn’t change the four-plus decades of safe use and science behind the product.”
Chief executive of Cancer Council Australia, Professor Sanchia Aranda, told the Guardian that Roundup posed no threat to home gardeners, though.
“This risk is only classified for people who use it in the workplace on a regular basis,” she said. “There is no evidence there is a danger to mum-and-dad gardeners, or kids who play in parks where Roundup is being sprayed.
“[Wear] protective clothing to stop it getting on your skin – it doesn’t need to be industrial protection – just make sure your arms and legs are covered. Wear a mask so you don’t inhale it.”
But she acknowledged that this is only based on what Monsanto has volunteered about the chemical.
“The most concerning thing is the suggestion that they are holding any information back. We want to emphasise that if there is other information that Monsanto have, that they must be transparent. We have zero tolerance for companies who protect their shareholders over the public.”
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