Terminal Cancer Patient Who Sued Monsanto Gets His Day in Court

Story at-a-glance

  • In 2015, the IARC classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen based on limited evidence showing it can cause Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, and convincing evidence linking it to cancer in animals
  • Recent research by the respected Ramazzini Institute shows daily ingestion of glyphosate at the EPA’s acceptable daily dietary exposure level alters sexual development in rats, alters the intestinal microbiome and has genotoxic effects
  • Recent tests by the U.S. National Toxicology Program reveal the Roundup formula is far more toxic than glyphosate alone, and is lethal to human cells
  • An estimated 4,000 individuals have filed lawsuits against Monsanto, claiming Roundup caused their Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The first cancer patient to get his day in court is Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who used Roundup extensively in his work as a groundskeeper
  • Bayer seems to be betting on its ability to rehabilitate Monsanto’s products’ reputation simply by ditching the Monsanto name, but worldwide, the fight against Monsanto is now turning toward Bayer as its successor


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

According to a 2017 report1 by Monsanto (since merged with Bayer, which has retired the Monsanto name), "Glyphosate-based herbicides are supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health and environmental effects databases ever compiled for a pesticide product. Comprehensive toxicological and environmental fate studies conducted over the last 40 years have time and again demonstrated the strong safety profile of this widely used herbicide."

However, the so-called evidence supporting the human and environmental safety of the broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup is based on research conducted or paid for primarily by Monsanto itself, and internal documents2,3 obtained during legal discovery in lawsuits against the company reveal Monsanto never actually tested the Roundup formulation for carcinogenicity.

Evidence also reveals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has colluded with Monsanto to protect the company's interests by manipulating and preventing key investigations into glyphosate's cancer-causing potential.

Glyphosate Linked to Many Health Hazards

In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) considered the global gold standard for carcinogenicity studies, reclassified glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen" (Class 2A),4,5 based on "limited evidence" showing the weed killer can cause Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, and "convincing evidence" linking it to cancer in animals.

That same year, following the IARC's reclassification, California Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced glyphosate will be listed 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 a lawsuit against OEHHA in January 2016 to stop the glyphosate/cancer classification, but a Fresno, California, superior court judge ruled on behalf of the OEHHA in February 2017.

Aside from its carcinogenic potential, independent research, untainted by the influence of Monsanto or the chemical industry as a whole, has also connected glyphosate-based herbicides with a growing list of disturbing health and environmental effects. For example, glyphosate has been shown to:

Affect your body's ability to produce fully functioning proteins

Inhibit the shikimate pathway (found in gut bacteria)

Interfere with the function of cytochrome P450 enzymes (required for activation of vitamin D and the creation of nitric oxide and cholesterol sulfate)

Chelate important minerals

Disrupt sulfate synthesis and transport

Interfere with the synthesis of aromatic amino acids and methionine, resulting in folate and neurotransmitter shortages

Disrupt the human and animal gut microbiome by acting as an antibiotic

Destroy the gut lining, which can lead to symptoms of gluten intolerance

Impair methylation pathways

Inhibit pituitary release of thyroid stimulating hormone, which can lead to hypothyroidism6,7

Roundup Is More Toxic Than Glyphosate in Isolation

The highly respected Ramazzini Institute in Italy is presently working on a comprehensive, global glyphosate study8 to ascertain its carcinogenicity and chronic toxicity potential. The pilot phase9 has already revealed that 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.

What's worse, tests10 conducted by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), published just last month, reveal the Roundup formula is far more toxic than glyphosate alone. 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.

While first-phase testing did not uncover evidence suggesting Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers are carcinogenic, it does show that the formulations are more toxic than glyphosate in isolation — and there's already evidence showing glyphosate has carcinogenic potential. None of this bodes well for Bayer, which now owns Roundup.

First US Trial Over Roundup Carcinogenicity Has Begun

In the years since the IARC's classification of glyphosate as probable human carcinogen, an estimated 4,000 individuals11 have filed lawsuits against Monsanto, claiming the weed killer caused their Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer that starts in your white blood cells (lymphocytes), which are part of your immune system. More than 425 of them are currently pending in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.12

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. Internal documents obtained during the discovery process have been released by plaintiff attorneys, and have become known as "The Monsanto Papers."13

The first cancer patient to actually get his day in court is Dewayne "Lee" Johnson,14,15,16 who was granted an expedited trial due to the fact that he's nearing death. In July, his oncologist predicted he may have only six more months to live.17

Johnson — whose lawsuit was filed in state court rather than through an MDL in the hopes of a quicker resolution — is a 46-year-old husband and father of two who claims he used Roundup 20 to 40 times per year while working as a groundskeeper for the Benicia school district in California, from 2012 through late 2015.18

Sometimes this involved mixing and spraying hundreds of gallons of Roundup PRO at a time. Johnson was diagnosed with a type 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, accuses Monsanto of hiding the health hazards of Roundup. His court case, presided by Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos, began June 18, 2018.19

U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) has published the court and discovery documents relating to this particular case on its website.20 Jury selection began June 21. In an interview with Bloomberg,21 one of Johnson's three attorneys, Timothy Litzenburg, likened Johnson's trial to a "canary in the coal mine." The outcome of his case can clearly have a significant impact on future trials, for better or worse.

Bellwether Case

Litzenburg told CNN,22 "Mr. Johnson is angry and is the most safety-oriented person I know. Right now, he is the bravest dude in America." Litzenburg also represents more than 2,000 other patients diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma who believe their extensive use of Roundup contributed to their disease.

Linda Wells, Midwest organizing director for the Pesticide Action Network North America commented on the case saying,23 "Monsanto has purposefully deceived the public about the safety of its flagship herbicide Roundup for decades. If Johnson is successful at trial, it will be a huge shake-up for the entire pesticide industry." Similarly, CNN noted, "There's a lot riding on this case, which could set a legal precedent for thousands of cases to follow."24

According to Bloomberg,25 Bayer "will probably assume Monsanto's risk from the prolific litigation over glyphosate," noting that as of August, Monsanto's reserve fund for environmental and litigation liability totaled $277 million. While that sounds like a lot, it could turn out to be a mere drop in the bucket if damage amounts in each and every case start reaching into the millions.

Johnson's case is expected to conclude by mid- to late July. A second case, this one in St. Louis is scheduled to go to trial in October.26 In a recent EcoWatch article, journalist and USRTK public interest researcher Carey Gillam writes:27

"Monsanto and allies in the agrochemical industry have blasted the litigation and the IARC classification as lacking in validity, countering that decades of safety studies prove that glyphosate does not cause cancer when used as designed. Monsanto has cited findings by the EPA and other regulatory authorities as backing its defense. The company can also point to an EPA draft risk assessment of glyphosate on its side,28 which concluded that glyphosate is not likely carcinogenic."

However, as mentioned earlier, part of the evidence that has emerged during discovery is that EPA colluded with Monsanto to protect its interests. A December 2016 meeting in which a scientific advisory panel re-analyzed the scientific evidence and evaluated the strength of the EPA's decision to exonerate glyphosate concluded the agency had violated its own guidelines by discounting data from studies in which a positive cancer link was in fact found.29

Trial evidence also includes paper trails showing Monsanto ghostwrote articles that the EPA relied on when backing glyphosate's safety. There's also evidence that Monsanto suppressed publication of damaging data. As reported by Gillam, "Johnson's attorneys say internal Monsanto documents show extensive 'manipulation' of the scientific record, and clearly improper and fraudulent interactions with regulators."

At least 10 current and former Monsanto employees will be called to the stand to testify at Johnson's trial. According to Brent Wisner, a key attorney on Johnson's legal team who will deliver the opening and closing statements for the case, "We're going to get them here. We have the goods. If the evidence we have is allowed in, Monsanto is in trouble."

Bayer Unlikely to Rehabilitate or Outgrow Monsanto's Sordid Reputation

Bayer seems to be betting on its ability to rehabilitate Monsanto's products' reputation simply by ditching the Monsanto name, but chances are they'll fail. Worldwide, the fight against Monsanto is now turning to Bayer as its successor. A simple name swap cannot undo the damage done, and that still being perpetrated, by Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides under false pretenses.

Like Monsanto, Bayer is refusing to budge when it comes to the alleged safety of Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and global concerns about rising glyphosate levels in human bodies. Between 1993 and 2016, prevalence of human exposure to glyphosate increased 500 percent, and the actual levels of the chemical found in individuals tested rose by a staggering 1,208 percent. As noted by Adrian Bebb, a Friends of the Earth Europe food and farming campaigner:30

"Bayer will become Monsanto in all but name unless it takes drastic measures to distance itself from the U.S. chemical giant's controversial past. If it continues to peddle dangerous pesticides and unwanted GMOs then it will quickly find itself dealing with the same global resistance that Monsanto did."

Similarly, Forbes commented on the Monsanto-Bayer merger predicting a less than smooth path forward for the new chemical behemoth:31

"Yes, Bayer introduced the world to Aspirin and Phenobarbital. But it also trademarked Heroin and, when it was IG Farben during World War II, used concentration camp prisoners as slave laborers and drug testers with disastrous results. Even with that context, there are two special challenges to onboarding leaders from Monsanto into Bayer:

1) Monsanto's history as a private company and 2) the 'toxicity' of the Monsanto brand earned by its manufacture and marketing of DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange, recombinant bovine growth hormones, genetically modified crops and seed patenting model and enforcement …

There's every reason to expect Monsanto's people to be more results-oriented and less caring, more hierarchical and more driven by authority than Bayer's people. These are non-trivial cultural hurdles to overcome."

Monsanto Sued for Deceptive Labeling, Marketing and Sale of Roundup

In addition to all of the civil lawsuits pending against Monsanto, Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumer's Association also sued32 Monsanto on behalf of the general public in April 2017, charging Monsanto with deceptive labeling, marketing and sale of Roundup. This case is also still pending, and could turn into yet another black eye for Bayer.

According to the complaint, Monsanto "actively advertises and promotes its Roundup products as targeting an enzyme 'found in plants but not in people or pets.' These claims are false, misleading and deceptive." The fact is the enzyme glyphosate targets is indeed found in both animals and humans, as it is found in our gut bacteria. While Monsanto tried to get the case dismissed, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly denied the motion,33 ruling34 that enough evidence had been presented to support the allegation.

Some of you may still recall a time when Monsanto advertised Roundup as "biodegradable" and "environmentally friendly," even going so far as to claim it "left the soil clean." Those claims were finally laid to rest once the company was found guilty of false advertising, as the evidence showed the chemical is none of those things.

I believe the truth about Roundup's impact on human health will eventually be recognized, and Roundup will go into history as one of the greatest, most dangerous con-jobs ever perpetrated by the chemical industry.


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