FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – California marked a significant benchmark in its effort to list Monsanto’s signature herbicide a carcinogen, after a judge ruled Friday the state could rely on international standards in its effort require cancer warnings on Roundup.
“The Labor Code listing mechanism does not constitute an unconstitutional delegation of authority to an outside agency, since the voters and the Legislature have established the basic legislative scheme and made the fundamental policy decision with regard to listing possible carcinogens under Proposition 65, and then allowed the IARC to make the highly technical fact-finding decisions with regard to which specific chemicals would be added to the list,” Fresno Superior Court Judge Kristi Kapetan wrote in Friday’s tentative ruling.
The IARC refers to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization. The agency listed glyphosate – the main ingredient in Roundup – as a “probable carcinogen to humans” in March 2015.
The listing prompted California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazards to file a notice of intent to list the chemical as a possible carcinogen as required by Proposition 65, passed by voters in 1986.
After office filed the notice in September 2015 Monsanto quickly sued, claiming the reliance on the IARC guidelines was unconstitutional.
The agrichemical giant maintains glyphosate is safe.
“Regulators around the world, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Food Safety Authority and the state of California itself, have determined that glyphosate does not cause cancer,” the company said in a statement sent to Courthouse News.
The company also indicated they would appeal if and when the final ruling is handed down in Fresno Superior, saying it “will continue to challenge this unfounded proposed ruling on the basis of science and law.”
Monsanto added, “The agency’s flawed and baseless proposal to list glyphosate under Proposition 65 not only contradicts California’s own scientific assessment, but it also violates the California and U.S. Constitutions.”
Sam Delson, deputy director of the state’s environmental health hazards office, said the office was pleased with the court’s tentative ruling.
“While we are pleased, we don’t want to take anything for granted,” Delson said in an interview. “We’ll wait and see if that is the ruling at the final ruling.”
Delson said that Proposition 65 explicitly stipulates the IARC as a credible resource to prompt listing under Proposition 65. After the office filed its notice, it opened public comment and received about 9,400 comments – the most the office has ever received, indicating the increasing public scrutiny around Monsanto.
Should the courts side with office all the way through the appeals process, it would list glyphosate as a carcinogen. After a one-year grace period, Monsanto would be compelled to include cancer warning labels with the Roundup product.
However, it is not clear whether labels would be required on consumer versions of Roundup or exclusively on industrial-sized products used in occupational contexts, Delson said, adding more tests are needed.
Monsanto has a history of manufacturing chemicals that have proved inimical to human health, including PCBs, a known carcinogen and cause of other adverse human health effects, and Agent Orange, a defoliant that causes a vast array of harmful effects including birth defects in the children of those exposed.
The company has also taken the lead in the manufacture of seeds and plants genetically engineered to be resistant to certain herbicides, which some have hailed as one of the most significant technological advancements in the agricultural industry. Others warn about potential human health repercussions.
Relative to glyphosate and Roundup, Monsanto says any health effects – which it insists are negligible – are outweighed by the enormous good the chemical has provided throughout the world.
Because the chemical is absorbed through foliage rather than through roots, it allows farmers to kill weeds without endangering their crops.
Kapetan is expected to issue her final ruling in the coming weeks.
Monsanto is represented by Trenton Norris of Arnold Porter Kaye Scholer in San Francisco. The state is represented by its attorney general’s office.