Several environmental groups are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), claiming that the agency failed in its duty to safeguard the environment and protect public health by making the decision to reapprove glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s controversial weed killer, Roundup. Two separate lawsuits were filed against the EPA over the agency’s divisive decision, which took place in January, one on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America, and the other on behalf of the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Beyond Pesticides, the Rural Coalition, Organización en California de Lideres Campesinas, and the Farmworker Association of Florida.
Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the United States and worldwide and is the key ingredient in Roundup, which is broadly applied in agriculture and forestry, on gardens and lawns and for weeds in industrial areas. On January 22, the EPA reauthorized the use of glyphosate in the United States, finalizing its proposed interim registration review decision from April 2019, which stated that the chemical is not carcinogenic (capable of causing cancer in humans) and does not pose a risk to human health. At that time, the agency stated that “there was insufficient evidence to conclude that glyphosate plays a role in any human diseases.” However, the thousands of lawsuits brought against Monsanto and Bayer on behalf of patients diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers following exposure to glyphosate would suggest otherwise.
To date, nearly 43,000 cancer victims have sued Bayer and its Monsanto subsidiary, claiming that Roundup exposure caused their cancer diagnoses. The first three Roundup trials resulted in plaintiff verdicts and Bayer has so far been ordered to pay more than $2.4 billion in compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiffs. These latest lawsuits filed on behalf of the CFS, NRDC and other environmental groups claim that the EPA’s continued approval of glyphosate flies in the face of countless scientific studies establishing a link between Roundup exposure and cancer, and call for the appeals court to set aside the EPA’s decision about whether the pesticide “continues to meet, or does not meet, the standard for registration in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).” The EPA’s final interim decision effectively renews the approval of glyphosate for use in the United States and maintains that the world’s most heavily used pesticide poses no threat to human health.
In a statement last week, Bayer, which acquired Roundup maker Monsanto in 2018, called the EPA’s review of glyphosate “extremely robust,” saying that, “For more than 40 years, the EPA has concluded that glyphosate does not pose unreasonable risks to non-target species when glyphosate is used as directed.” Other agencies, however, have raised serious concerns about the safety of Roundup’s active ingredient. In 2015, for instance, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” A growing body of research has linked side effects of Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers to an increased risk of a cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Despite widespread warnings from other federal agencies and international experts about the potential health risks of glyphosate exposure, the EPA continues to defend the safety of glyphosate and Monsanto’s Roundup products, denying claims that the chemical can increase a person’s risk of cancer. “EPA’s half-completed, biased, and unlawful approval sacrifices the health of farmworkers and endangered species at the altar of Monsanto profits,” said CFS legal director George Kimbrell in a statement about the group’s lawsuit. The NRDC, in a statement about its lawsuit against the EPA, called the agency’s decision to reauthorize glyphosate use “unsafe, unhealthy and unlawful,” stating that the EPA “ignored warnings from scientists, environmentalists, and medical experts who cautioned about the serious health and environmental harms of continued use of glyphosate.”