Bayer announced a settlement last week with about 95,000 of approximately 125,000 plaintiffs who alleged that glyphosate, the key ingredient in its Roundup weed killer, causes cancer. The settlement, which Bayer says will total between $10.05 billion and $10.85 billion, would include $1.25 billion to address future claims related to what it calls “outstanding Monsanto litigation.”
That’s an average of about $100,000 per plaintiff, though the New York Times is reporting that individuals’ awards will actually range from $5,000 to $250,000. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Let’s compare that to the cost to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), the type of cancer linked to glyphosate exposure. A study from the National Institute of Health found that the mean cost of treatment for aggressive NHL was $85,934 over the course of six months.
In other words, Bayer agreed to barely help victims pay off medical bills -- never mind the non-monetary costs of cancer -- and kept its license to keep selling poison.
Bayer didn’t invent Roundup. The company inherited the herbicide -- and the lawsuits -- when it merged with Monsanto in 2018. But instead of discontinuing the product, Bayer has vigorously defended it, arguing that “it is safe and effective and really critical to agriculture.”
In reality, weeds are rapidly growing resistant to Roundup as well as other pesticides and herbicides, rendering them useless over time. Meanwhile, research has shown that many non-chemical interventions can control weeds. An Iowa State University study found that adding diversity to crop rotation could reduce our reliance on agricultural chemicals by up to 88%.
At a time when we have more options than ever to produce our food or beautify our yards in ways that don’t threaten lives and the environment, it is absurd that we would continue to use a chemical that the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies as a probable carcinogen.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has disagreed with WHO and said that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” This conclusion places greater emphasis on evidence from studies submitted by companies who sell glyphosate-based herbicides to fulfill regulatory requirements, while WHO’s conclusion is based primarily on independent, peer-reviewed research, which is standard practice in the scientific community.
The EPA also ignores the heightened risk of cancer for those who are exposed at higher doses and with greater frequency, such as Dewayne Johnson, a groundskeeper who won $289 million in damages from Monsanto in 2018 after using Roundup on the job and developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
With those cases in mind, the EPA should take WHO’s lead and base its review of glyphosate’s toxicity on impartial science, not industry-funded studies that underestimate risks.
Even if the EPA joins WHO in concluding that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans, no law says that once we name something a probable carcinogen, it can no longer be used. Bayer will pay its $10 billion to relieve the corporate headache of these lawsuits and to maintain the privilege to keep selling this dangerous product.
People around the world will continue to use Roundup and it will end up in everything from children’s cereal to our bodies. It will continue to cause cancer, and even when the EPA acknowledges that, people will keep getting cancer until we decide that chemicals that cause cancer don’t belong on store shelves, on our produce, on park lawns, or in our own backyards.
Acknowledging that glyphosate causes cancer isn’t the final step in eliminating it from our lives. But it’s a good place to start.