Judge Halts California Bid for Cancer Warning on Roundup

(CN) — A federal judge on Monday permanently barred the state of California from requiring Monsanto and other chemical companies to put cancer warning labels on the glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup.

U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb found the scientific evidence pointing to the carcinogenicity of glyphosate is too scant to warrant a warning and that forcing the company to include a warning on its label would be compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment. 

“Providing misleading or false labels to consumers also undermines California’s interest in accurately informing its citizens of health risks at the expense of plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights,” Shubb wrote in a 34-page order. “Accordingly, the balance of equities and public interest weigh in favor of permanently enjoining Proposition 65’s warning requirement for glyphosate.”

Monsanto, which has seen a barrage of lawsuits and on the wrong end of several legal rulings involving cancer and Roundup, celebrated Monday’s legal victory. 

“This is a very important ruling for California agriculture and for science as a federal court, after weighing all the facts, has concluded that the evidence does not support a cancer warning requirement for glyphosate-based products, which farmers all over the world depend on to control weeds, practice sustainable farming, and bring their products to market efficiently,” the company said in a statement. 

In the ruling, Shubb noted that the California Department of Pesticide Regulation agreed to require warning labels only after the International Agency for Research on Cancer ruled there was a probable link between glyphosate exposure and cancer. 

Specifically, several scientific studies, including a recent meta-analysis, have concluded there is at least a correlational relationship between exposure to high levels of glyphosate and the development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

The near-consensus among global regulatory agencies — including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Commission and the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency — concludes that there is no scientific evidence that glyphosate causes cancer or is genotoxic. 

Genotoxicity describes a method whereby a toxin damages the genetic information of cells causing mutations that could lead to cancer. 

“The fact remains that every government regulator of which the court is aware, with the exception of the IARC, has found that there was no or insufficient evidence that glyphosate causes cancer,” Shubb wrote. 

The EPA released an interim decision on the pesticide in January, concluding that there is a lack of evidence the chemical causes cancer in humans. 

“It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk. We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “It is critical that federal regulatory agencies like EPA relay to consumers accurate, scientific-based information about risks that pesticides may pose to them.”

Monsanto first sued California in 2017, with Shubb awarding a preliminary injunction in 2018 that was made permanent Monday. 

Nevertheless, many still maintain glyphosate poses a risk to the public. 

Jennifer Sass, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in 2018 that Monsanto and other companies were undermining objective scientific inquiry into the correlation between the chemical and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

“We must continue to resist the endless lobby campaign of Monsanto and the chemical industry and protect government scientists and chemical assessment programs, to let them do the important work of generating credible publicly available chemical hazard assessments on glyphosate, and all the other chemicals to which we are routinely exposed in our food, our drinking water, in household products, in building materials and through so many other everyday routes of exposure,” Sass wrote. 

Monsanto has lost three high-profile lawsuits in the last year, with juries and judges ordering the company to pay $80 million, $78 million and $87 million, respectively, to plaintiffs claim Roundup caused their cancers. The company — which is now owned by German chemical giant Bayer — has since moved to settle thousands of similar suits. 

Experts estimate the company will dole out approximately $8 billion. 

Nevertheless, Monsanto will not have to put labels on their products in California and can tout a federal judge’s acceptance of the current science that glyphosate is not a carcinogen. 

“Glyphosate has been subject to rigorous scientific scrutiny by the federal government and regulators worldwide for decades,” Monsanto said, along with other agricultural groups that joined the company in the suit. “It is widely regarded as one of the safest herbicides ever developed, and the overwhelming scientific consensus is that it does not pose any risk of cancer.”

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