Roundup Lawsuits: A Uniquely American Sham
The unique conditions present in the U.S. led to the filing of more than 8,000 court claims alleging the use of glyphosate, popularly known as Roundup, caused one of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) cancers. Roundup claims unfailingly depend on the combination of the largely misunderstood 2015 conclusion of the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC), a susceptible U.S. legal system, mass tort law firms, contingency fee arrangements and self-serving special interest groups.
The genesis for the lawsuits is the assumption the IARC’s “probable carcinogen” conclusion is equivalent to the “more likely than not” jury decision for Roundup causation of NHL group cancers and the specific cancer of each plaintiff. However, IARC’s charter specifically restricts conclusions to the identification of cancer hazards at any level or means of exposure and provide for further analysis by appropriate scientific and/or regulatory agencies to establish risk based standards applicable to human exposures. Moreover, IARC’s organizational limits often preclude the use of higher quality studies with in-depth data available to other organizations which would have changed the overall IARC conclusions; e.g., the large number of extensively documented rodent and mechanistic cellular studies required and maintained for regulatory registrations. Another example is the unpublished North American Pooled Project (Pahwa and 11 other authors including the head of IARC glyphosate monograph) which demonstrated the IARC conclusion dependent McDuffie 1994 and De Roos 2003 epidemiological studies had grossly inflated relative risks for glyphosate formulation exposures. In addition, the IARC did not have the Andreotti 2018 epidemiological update of the Agricultural Health Study, a study larger than all other studies combined with sensitivity studies for proving the accuracy of results. In summary, the IARC conclusion falls well short of civil trial standards:
· A doubling of human risk is required is required for “more than likely” proof of glyphosate causation of NHL cancers and IARC’s hazard level conclusion cannot meet this standard, particularly in the absence of support from animal or mechanistic studies.
· IARC’s organizational limitations for use of the full complement of studies with in-depth source data or recently published studies renders their conclusions inaccurate compared to other scientific and regulatory agencies, including the European Food Safety Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency.
· The structural and comparative deficiencies of IARC’s conclusion preclude general causation; i.e., the causal association of glyphosate formulations to NHL cancers. Furthermore, the leap from the IARC conclusion to a plaintiff’s specific cancer is even more implausible, particularly as a majority of NHL cancers are idiopathic and the most likely causation is unknown.
Initiating a lawsuit for potential Roundup claimants for Roundup is not difficult as there are many “mass tort” law firms specializing in product deficiency and labeling claims willing to file lawsuits with no payment required. Notably, all Roundup claims are filed in the U.S., use contingency fee arrangements, include punitive damage allegations, rely on mass tort law firms and have a symbiotic support network of special interest non-governmental organizations and associations with mass communication capabilities. “Mass torts” are so named because multiple or mass numbers of plaintiffs are aggregated within court jurisdictions and mass media is also used by the corresponding law firms to obtain more plaintiffs from the ongoing publicity. Contingency fee arrangements allow plaintiffs to undertake a legal claim without payment as law firms receive payment from a winning verdict percentage ranging from 33% to 40%, but may be higher or lower depending on the amount the plaintiff could potentially win, the strength of the case and other factors.
Another standard feature of the Roundup lawsuits is the demand for punitive damages. For example, California law, among other prerequisites, requires all three of the following conditions be fulfilled for consideration of punitive remedies:
· Clear and convincing evidence of an intent to cause harm or a “willful and knowing disregard for the safety of others”,
· A despicable act that is “so vile, base, or contemptible that it would be looked down upon and despised by reasonable people.”
· “Punitive damages . . . must be tied to oppression, fraud, or malice in the conduct which gave rise to liability in the case” and caused plaintiff’s harm.
The plaintiff’s punitive allegations included among others:
· Incomplete author disclosures for a Monsanto commissioned review comparing the methodological and qualitative differences of the IARC glyphosate evaluation to all other key, world-wide scientific and regulatory organizations. Aside from disturbing the finer sensibilities of the publishing journal and the IARC, the scientific observations were not challenged by the plaintiff and have been confirmed by the other scientific and regulatory organizations.
· An apparently unreturned telephone call (after an extended conversation with a Roundup specialist) by a Monsanto medical doctor and toxicologist regarding advice as to whether the plaintiff with a year-long cancer diagnosis should continue spraying duties in recognition of the IARC conclusion. The Monsanto doctor/toxicologist could have explained the irrelevance of the IARC conclusion, but medical ethics would have prevented any type of medical advice. Notably, none of plaintiff’s own medical specialists considered the IARC conclusion to be relevant.
· A Greim et al., 2015 publication which compiled data from long term glyphosate rodent studies was alleged to be biased because of Monsanto involvement, but author interests were fully disclosed within the published study and the text narrative is substantiated by a large appendix of the corresponding detailed rodent studies.
The punitive allegation examples as well as the others presented during the Johnson v. Monsanto trial obviously do not fulfill the prerequisites for punitive demands and are clearly irrelevant to the scientific determination for glyphosate causation of NHL cancers. However, these allegations were used to confuse the scientific and medical issues, consume a large portion of the trial and used as material for inaccurate and self-serving social and news media communications.
Many mass tort law firms, including such firms as The Onder Law Firm and Weitz & Luxenberg , Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman are readily available to provide free consultations for the opportunity to become a contingency fee plaintiff. Mass tort law firms maintain websites justifying the Roundup claims with the IARC conclusion and other studies without explaining the context or significance. Others firms such as Parker Milliken Clark O’Hara & Samuelian and Winston & Strawn are apparently participating as litigators for mass tort law firms with unknown fee arrangements.
Organizations with self-interests in promoting anti-glyphosate, anti-GMO, non-GMO and pro-organic narratives and are directly or indirectly leveraging glyphosate claims and allegations to support their ideological and/or industry interests. Representative examples include the following, often incestuous, organizations U.S. Right to Know, Organic Consumer Association, Sustainable Pulse, Natural News, March Against Monsanto, Moms Across America and Non-GMO Project.
The perceptions derived from media and social networks have led lawsuit participants to believe there are pots of gold at the end of the Roundup lawsuits. These perceptions while reinforced by special interest groups and mass tort law firms are inaccurate at many levels. Fortunately, the federal and state civil justice systems are self-correcting given sufficient time and will eventually evaluate the evidence correctly and convert those pots of gold into fool’s gold.