- A Northern California couple was awarded more than $US2 billion in a lawsuit against Monsanto, the agrochemical company now owned by Bayer.
- The couple argued that a widely-used agricultural pesticide called glyphosate – found in Monsanto’s popular weed-killer, Roundup – was responsible for their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Two days later, a study suggested glyphosate is linked another major health risk, fatty liver disease, in humans.
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For more than three decades, Alva and Alberta Pilliod used weed-killer to tend their property in Northern California. The couple wasn’t told to wear gloves or other forms of protective clothing when spraying the product. Then they got sick.
In 2011, Alva was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Four year later, his wife, Alberta, received the same diagnosis.
The couple believed their cancer was attributable to Roundup, a popular weed-killer whose active ingredient is glyphosate, a widely-used agricultural pesticide. On May 13, they were awarded more than $US2 billion in damages in a lawsuit against Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, which is now owned by Bayer.
The court cases track with a rise in scientific inquiry about the health risks of exposure to Roundup.
Two days after the Pilliod verdict, the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology published a study that showed a possible link between glyphosate and another major health risk, fatty liver disease.
After examining the urine of nearly 100 patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the researchers found that glyphosate levels were higher in those with liver inflammation and damage than those without. These results held true regardless of a person’s age, race, or Body Mass Index (BMI).
As the most common form of liver disease, fatty liver disease affects up to 100 million people in the US alone. Patients with the disease that exhibit liver inflammation and damage are more likely to develop cirrhosis (advanced liver scarring) and liver cancer.
The study adds a new layer to the debate surrounding glyphosate, which for the most part has focused on tentative links to cancer.
Much of the concern surrounding the pesticide boils down to a report published by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which said the chemical was “probably carcinogenic in humans.” Reuters later reviewed the material and found that the IARC had edited parts of the document that didn’t align with its conclusion.
An environmental exposure professor at Harvard previously told Business Insider that the IARC was a “world-renowned and reputable” institution whose findings had benefited global cancer researchers. But organisations like the European Commission, Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and the World Health Organisation’s International Program on Chemical Safety, have all stated that glyphosate does not present a public health concern.
In its response to the Pilliod verdict, Bayer cited the conclusion of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which found “no risks to public health from the current registered uses of glyphosate” – a determination that’s also been contested. In 2017, court documents revealed conversations between Monsanto and federal regulators which suggested that a senior EPA official tried to suppress a federal study of glyphosate.
“From day one, Monsanto has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe,” a lawyer for the Pilliods said in a statement following the verdict. “Instead of investing in sound science, they invested millions in attacking science that threatened their business agenda.”
Further research could suggest that glyphosate isn’t a health risk. But investors have started to take note of scientists’ concerns.
Since Monsanto lost its first Roundup-related court case in August, Bayer’s stock has dropped by around 35%. In the wake of the latest verdict, Bayer’s shares plummeted nearly 10%.