Lead Trial Counsel Reveals Evidence That Led to Historic Win Against Monsanto
Last month, a jury ruled in favor of plaintiff Dewayne Johnson1,2,3,4,5 in a truly historic case against Monsanto. Mr. Johnson — the first of over 8,000 cases pending against the infamous chemical company which has since been bought by Bayer AG6,7 — claimed Monsanto’s Roundup caused his Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. According to the landmark ruling, Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression” and was responsible for “negligent failure” by not warning consumers about the carcinogenicity of this pernicious weed killer. Monsanto has been ordered to pay $289 million in damages to Johnson.
In The Highwire video featured below, medical journalist Del Bigtree takes a deep dive into this groundbreaking win, revealing evidence presented to the jury — email correspondence and corporate documents that created a comprehensive narrative of corporate malfeasance and collusion with U.S. regulatory agencies — ultimately leading the jury to give Johnson a quarter of a billion dollars in damages.
Summary of Monsanto’s Battle to Squash Evidence of Carcinogenicity
The beginning of the end for Monsanto really began in 2015, when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the “gold standard” in carcinogenicity research, reclassified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.”8,9
This determination was based on evidence showing the popular weed killer can cause Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with “convincing evidence” it can cause cancer in animals. In response, Monsanto launched an all-out attack on IARC and its researchers, and even lobbied to strip IARC of its U.S. funding.
Then, in January 2017, the American Chemistry Council, of which Monsanto is a member, went on to form a front group called Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research,10 the express purpose of which is to discredit the IARC and seek to reform the IARC Monographs Program, which evaluates and determines the carcinogenicity of chemicals.11 As reported by the Union of Concerned Scientists on July 11, 2018:12
“A rider [was added to] the House version of the HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] appropriations bill that would prevent the National Institutes of Health from lending any financial support to IARC unless it agrees to push for reforms at IARC that have been called for by [industry ally U.S. Rep.] Lamar Smith and the House Science Committee at the bequest of the chemical industry.”
Monsanto Fought — and Lost — Proposition 65 Cancer Warning Label
Following the IARC’s determination that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans in 2015, California’s Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced it intended to list glyphosate as a chemical known to cause cancer under Proposition 65, which requires consumer products with potential cancer-causing ingredients to bear warning labels.
Monsanto filed formal comments with OEHHA saying the plan to list glyphosate as a carcinogen should be withdrawn. When OEHHA refused to cave, Monsanto sued OEHHA in January 2016 to stop the glyphosate/cancer classification. OEHHA filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and a Fresno, California, superior court judge ruled on their behalf in February 2017.
Alas, Monsanto continued filing legal appeals to block the cancer warning from being implemented. In its latest attempt, Monsanto tried to have a provision of the law removed that allows the OEHHA from taking scientific findings from outside experts — such as the IARC — into consideration.
Mere days after Johnson’s verdict, Monsanto lost against California yet again. As reported by Sustainable Pulse:13
“This decision leaves in place lower court decisions upholding a provision of the voter-approved initiative that allows outside expert scientific findings to be considered when adding chemicals to the public list of carcinogens … ‘Monsanto doesn’t have the right to decide which scientific experts are permitted to inform the public about cancer-causing chemicals.
By refusing to consider this case, the Supreme Court has allowed Proposition 65 to keep working the way voters intended when the initiative was passed in 1986,’ said Avinash Kar, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.”
This is another piece of good news, as this means California will be able to require Roundup and other glyphosate-containing products to bear a cancer warning label, and since companies rarely want to go through the extra work of making different product labels for different states, this likely means all Americans will finally be informed of the fact that Roundup is carcinogenic.
Evidence Shows EPA Colluded With Monsanto to Hide Evidence of Carcinogenicity
Throughout its legal battles, Monsanto has relied heavily on evidence by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which, despite IARC findings, has continued to maintain that glyphosate is probably not carcinogenic to humans.
However, internal documents obtained during the discovery process of Johnson’s case revealed the EPA colluded with Monsanto to protect the company’s interests — actually manipulating and preventing key investigations into glyphosate’s cancer-causing potential. You can review key documents from this case on the U.S. Right to Know website.14
A 2017 Spiegel article15 also delves into some of this damning evidence, which includes correspondence that clearly reveals Monsanto knew Roundup had safety problems, and in more ways than one:
“The Monsanto researchers also behaved irresponsibly when it comes to the question of Roundup’s absorption into the body,” Spiegel writes. “In their own animal experiments back in 2002, the company’s experts discovered that ‘between 5 and 10 percent’ of the substance penetrated the skin of rats.
The rate was much higher than expected and the result had the potential to ‘blow’ the ‘Roundup risk evaluations,’ reads one email. As a consequence, the author of the email wrote: ‘We decided thus to STOP the study.’ Laboratory animals also absorbed more Roundup ingredients through the digestive tract than had been hoped for.
Above all, the Monsanto papers show that the experts were very aware of a fact that is often lost in the public debate: In addition to glyphosate, herbicides like Roundup contain other dangerous chemicals that are necessary to enable the active ingredient to penetrate hard plant walls, among other things. These ingredients are often more harmful than the active ingredient on its own.”
Summary of Johnson’s Case
In the video featured below, Del Bigtree interviews Baum Hedlund attorney Brent Wisner, lead trial counsel for Johnson and thousands of other plaintiffs who believe their Non-Hodgkin lymphoma — a type of cancer that starts in your white blood cells (lymphocytes), which are part of your immune system — was caused by Roundup exposure.
More than 500 of these cases are currently pending in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.16 While the MDL procedure is similar to a class-action suit in that it consolidates pretrial proceedings, each case will get its own jury trial, and the outcomes will vary depending on the strength of the evidence in any given case.
Johnson’s lawsuit was filed in state court rather than through an MDL and was granted an expedited trial due to the fact that he’s nearing death.17,18,19 In California, if the plaintiff dies, no punitive damages can be awarded, so Johnson agreed to be the first one to take Monsanto on.
Johnson, a 46-year-old husband and father of two, sprayed an estimated 150 gallons of Roundup 20 to 40 times per year while working as a groundskeeper for the Benicia school district in California, from 2012 through late 2015.20
Johnson was diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma called mycosis fungoides in August 2014. He told his doctor the rash he’d developed that summer would worsen after exposure to the herbicide. His lawsuit, filed in 2016 after he became too ill to work, accused Monsanto of hiding the health hazards of Roundup.
His court case, presided by Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos, began June 18, 2018, and ended August 10 with a ruling in his favor.21 As mentioned, the jury awarded Johnson $289 million in damages — an amount that effectively wipes out Monsanto’s reserve fund for environmental and litigation liability, which according to Bloomberg22 totaled $277 million as of August 2018.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Monsanto’s Corporate Culture and Toxic Legacy
Wisner is also joined by co-counsel Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has been an environmental lawyer for 30 years, who commented on Monsanto’s “antidemocratic and antihumanistic” corporate ways, saying:
“We really were up against an industry that has employed all of the techniques pioneered by the tobacco industry.
Over 60 years, Big Tobacco killed 1 out of every 5 of its customers who used its products as directed, was able to avoid any kind of regulatory interference, because it pioneered these techniques of ghostwriting science, compromising science, corrupting public officials, capturing the agencies that are supposed to protect Americans from pollution, and Monsanto really was part of the group that pioneered those techniques — and also of using ad hominem attacks.
Monsanto is the same company that was making DDT and masterminded and orchestrated the attack on Rachael Carson … [they] tried to personally destroy her, as she died of cancer. On agent orange, it led the fight to deny rights and deny compensation to tens of thousands of American veterans who had been exposed in Vietnam to this terrible chemical.
I’ve been suing one of Monsanto’s chemicals for 35 years, PCBs, which Monsanto is the only producer of. It contaminated the Hudson River. In more recent years, I’ve brought a series of lawsuits against Monsanto because of the PCBs put into caulking in American schools. Half the schools built between 1950 and 1977 have calking in their windows filled with PCBs.
Monsanto knew PCB was carcinogenic and an endocrine disruptor and children should never be exposed to it. And it knew PCB was about to be heavily regulated if it got banned. So, it ordered all of its sales forces to … [get rid of it by selling] it for caulking for schools. This is the mentality of a very corrupt corporate culture.”
Trial Counsels Discuss the Evidence Against Monsanto
As noted by Kennedy, until now, Monsanto has had a reputation of being untouchable. Wisner finally broke the magic spell with his phenomenal ability to create a comprehensive narrative, showing exactly how Monsanto has been able to get away with murder, and producing the evidence needed to support that narrative.
As mentioned, Wisner was able to show corporate correspondence and documents that clearly discussed Monsanto’s inability to prove Roundup is noncarcinogenic. In fact, Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer, Ph.D., who in 2016 appeared on the TV show “The Doctors” defending the safety of Roundup, years earlier had written an email stating:
“The terms glyphosate and Roundup cannot be used interchangeably, nor can you use “Roundup” for all glyphosate-based herbicides anymore. For example, you cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.”
Indeed, as Wisner notes, Roundup is not just glyphosate. It also contains a number of surfactants to solubilize it and other chemicals, and the synergistic action between all of these chemicals has actually been shown to be far more toxic than glyphosate alone.
This was recently confirmed in tests23 conducted by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP). According to the NTP’s summary of the results, glyphosate formulations significantly alter the viability of human cells by disrupting the functionality of cell membranes. In layman’s terms, Roundup kills human cells.
Recent research24,25 by the highly respected Ramazzini Institute in Italy also reveals daily ingestion of glyphosate at the acceptable daily dietary exposure level set by the EPA alters sexual development in rats, produces changes in the intestinal microbiome, and exhibits genotoxic effects.
Wisner made every effort to get Farmer to testify. Not only did she evade being served, when they were finally able to catch her, Monsanto “fought tooth and nail” to prevent her from taking the stand. They ultimately won, and Wisner was not able to get her to testify. Still, email correspondence to and from Farmer was revealing enough.
Success Became Monsanto’s Downfall
According to Kennedy and Wisner, the extreme success of Roundup is ultimately what became its downfall. Roundup is now the most widely used agricultural chemical in the history of the world, and its sheer pervasiveness led to increased scientific investigation. With that increased scrutiny by independent researchers, more and more evidence of harm was published.
Secondly, in 2005 Monsanto started recommending the off-label use of Roundup as a desiccant on non-GMO grains. Essentially, by spraying Roundup on the grain right before harvest, it dries the grain, making it easier to harvest and allows the farmer greater profits, as they’re penalized when grain contains moisture. The greater the moisture content of the grain at sale, the lower the price they get.
As a result of this successful campaign, farmers began spraying Roundup directly on food preharvest, whereas previously it was primarily used as weed control. This is why we’re now finding glyphosate in just about everything — it’s been found in every processed food tested, in air samples, rain samples, municipal water supplies, soil samples, breast milk and urine.
Related reading: Toxic Weed Killer Glyphosate Found in Most Foods Sold in the U.S.
According to Bigtree, two recent studies even revealed the presence of glyphosate in several vaccines, including the pneumococcal, Tdap, hepatitis B (which is injected on the day of birth), influenza and MMR. The MMR vaccine had the highest amounts at 0.8 parts of glyphosate per billion.
Ironically, one of Farmer’s talking points during her appearance on “The Doctors” was that IARC was looking at the effects of injected glyphosate, which is not how it’s used. Yet now we’re finding vaccines are contaminated with glyphosate, and is in fact injected directly into the bodies of young children.
Kennedy notes the majority of glyphosate used since its inception has actually been used in the last five years alone. And, as contamination has been detected, concern about its safety has been increasingly strengthened. These factors are ultimately what allowed Wisner to present such a compelling case against Monsanto.