New glyphosate papers point to “urgency” for more research on chemical impact to human health

Print Email Share Tweet

Newly published scientific papers illustrate the ubiquitous nature of the weed killing chemical glyphosate and a need to better understand the impact exposure to the popular pesticide may be having on human health, including the health of the gut microbiome.

In one of the new papers, researchers from the University of Turku in Finland said that they were able to determine, in a “conservative estimate,” that approximately 54 percent of species in the core of the human gut microbiome are “potentially sensitive” to glyphosate. The researchers said they used a new bioinformatics method to make the finding.

With a “large proportion” of bacteria in the gut microbiome susceptible to glyphosate, the intake of glyphosate “may severely affect the composition of the human gut microbiome,” the authors said in their paper, which was published this month in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.

The microbes in the human gut include a variety of bacteria and fungi and are believed to impact immune functions and other important processes. Unhealthy gut microbiomes are believed by some scientists to contribute to a range of diseases.

“Although data on glyphosate residues in human gut systems are still lacking, our results suggest that glyphosate residues decrease bacterial diversity and modulate bacterial species composition in the gut,” the authors said. “We may assume that long-term exposure to glyphosate residues leads to the dominance of resistant strains in the bacterial community.”

The concerns about glyphosate’s impact on the human gut microbiome stem from the fact that glyphosate works by targeting an enzyme known as 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS.) This enzyme is critical to the synthesizing of essential amino acids.

“To determine the actual impact of glyphosate on the human gut microbiota and other organisms, further empirical studies are needed to reveal glyphosate residues in food, to determine the effects of pure glyphosate and commercial formulations on microbiomes and to assess the extent to which our EPSPS amino acid markers predict bacterial susceptibility to glyphosate in in vitro and real-world scenarios,” the authors of the new paper concluded.

In addition to the six researchers from Finland, one of the authors of the paper is affiliated with the department of biochemistry and biotechnology at Rovira i Virgili University, Tarragona, Catalonia, in Spain.

“The consequences for human health are not determined in our study. However, based on previous studies… we know that alterations in the human gut microbiome may be connected to several diseases,” University of Turku researcher Pere Puigbo said in an interview.

“I hope that our research study opens the door to further experiments, in-vitro and in the field, as well as population-based studies to quantify the effect the use of glyphosate has on human populations and other organisms,” Puigbo said.

Introduced in 1974

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup herbicides and hundreds of other weed killing products sold around the world. It was introduced as a weed killer by Monsanto in 1974 and grew to become the most widely used herbicide after Monsanto’s introduction in the 1990s of crops genetically engineered to tolerate the chemical. Residues of glyphosate are commonly found on food and in water. Consequently, residues are also often detected in the urine of people exposed to glyphosate through either diet and/or application.

U.S. regulators and Monsanto owner Bayer AG maintain there are no human health concerns with glyphosate exposure when the products are used as intended, including from residues in the diet.

The body of research contradicting those claims is growing, however. The research on the potential impacts of glyphosate on the gut microbiome is not nearly as robust as the literature associating glyphosate to cancer, but is an area many scientists are probing.

In a somewhat related paper published this month, a team of researchers from Washington State University and Duke University said that they had found a correlation between the levels of bacteria and fungi in the gastrointestinal tracts of children and the chemicals found in their homes. The researchers did not look at glyphosate specifically, but were alarmed to find that children with higher levels of common household chemicals in their bloodstream showed a reduction in the amount and diversity of important bacteria in their gut.

Glyphosate in urine

An additional scientific paper published this month underscored a need for better and more data when it comes to glyphosate exposure and children.

The paper, published in the journal Environmental Health by researchers from the Institute for Translational Epidemiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, is the outcome of a literature review of multiple studies reporting actual values of glyphosate in people.

The authors said they analyzed five studies published in the last two years reporting glyphosate levels measured in people, including one study in which urinary glyphosate levels were measured in children living in rural Mexico. Of 192 children living in the Agua Caliente area, 72.91 percent had detectable levels of glyphosate in their urine, and all of the 89 children living in Ahuacapán, Mexico, had detectable levels of the pesticide in their urine.

Even when including additional studies, overall, there is sparse data regarding glyphosate levels in people. Studies globally total only 4,299 people, including 520 children, the researchers said.

The authors concluded that it is not currently possible to understand the “potential relationship” between glyphosate exposure and disease, especially in children, because data collection on exposure levels in people is limited and not standardized.

They noted that despite the lack of solid data about the impacts of glyphosate on children, the amount of glyphosate residues legally allowed by U.S. regulators on food has increased dramatically over the years.

“There are gaps in the literature on glyphosate, and these gaps should be filled with some urgency, given the large use of this product and its ubiquitous presence,” said author Emanuela Taioli.

Children are especially vulnerable to environmental carcinogens and tracking exposure to products such as glyphosate in children is “a pressing public health priority,” according to the authors of the paper.

“As with any chemical, there are multiple steps involved in evaluating risk, which include gathering information about human exposures, so that the levels that produce harm in one population or animal species can be compared to typical exposure levels,” the authors wrote.

“However, we have previously shown that data on human exposure in workers and the general population are very limited. Several other gaps in knowledge exist around this product, for example results on its genotoxicity in humans are limited. The continued debate regarding the effects of glyphosate exposure makes establishing exposure levels in the general public a pressing public health issue, especially for the most vulnerable.”

The authors said monitoring of urinary glyphosate levels should be conducted in the general population.

“We continue to suggest that inclusion of glyphosate as a measured exposure in nationally representative studies like the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey will allow for a better understanding of the risks that glyphosate may pose and allow for better monitoring of those who are most likely to be exposed and those who are more susceptible to the exposure,” they wrote.

California Supreme Court denies review of Monsanto Roundup trial loss

Print Email Share Tweet

The California Supreme Court will not review a California man’s trial win over Monsanto, dealing another blow to Monsanto’s German owner, Bayer AG.

The decision to deny a review in the case of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson marks the latest in a string of court losses for Bayer as it tries to complete settlements with close to 100,000 plaintiffs who each claim they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma from exposure to Roundup and other Monsanto weed killers. Juries in each of three trials held to date have found not only that the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer but also that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

“We are disappointed with the Court’s decision not to review the intermediate appeals court’s decision in Johnson and will consider our legal options for further review of this case,” Bayer said in a statement.  

The Miller Firm, Johnson’s Virginia-based law firm, said the California Supreme Court’s decision denied “Monsanto’s latest attempt to skirt responsibility” for causing Johnson’s cancer.

“Multiple judges have now affirmed the jury’s unanimous finding that Monsanto maliciously  concealed Roundup’s cancer risk and caused Mr. Johnson to develop a deadly form of cancer. The time has come for Monsanto to end its baseless appeals and pay Mr. Johnson the money it owes him,” the firm said.

A unanimous jury found in August 2018 that exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides  caused Johnson to develop a deadly form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The jury further found that Monsanto acted to hide the risks of its products in conduct so egregious that the company should pay Johnson $250 million in punitive damages on top of $39 million in past and future compensatory damages.

Upon appeal from Monsanto, the trial judge reduced the $289 million to $78 million. An appeals court then cut the award to $20.5 million, citing the fact that Johnson was expected to live only a short time.

The appeals court said it reduced the damages award despite finding there was “abundant” evidence that glyphosate, together with the other ingredients in Roundup products, caused Johnson’s cancer and that “there was overwhelming evidence that Johnson has suffered, and will continue to suffer for the rest of his life, significant pain and suffering.”

Both Monsanto and Johnson sought review by the California Supreme Court, with Johnson asking for restoration of a higher damage award and Monsanto seeking to reverse the trial judgment.

Bayer has reached settlements with several of the leading law firms who collectively represent a significant share of the claims brought against Monsanto. In June, Bayer said it would provide $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve the litigation.

Appeals court upholds groundskeeper’s Roundup cancer trial win over Monsanto

Print Email Share Tweet

In yet another court loss for Monsanto owner Bayer AG, an appeals court rejected the company’s effort to overturn the trial victory notched by a California school groundskeeper who alleged exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides caused him to develop cancer, though the court did say damages should be cut to $20.5 million.

The Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District of California said Monday that Monsanto’s arguments were unpersuasive and Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was entitled to collect $10.25 million in  compensatory damages and another $10.25 million in punitive damages. That is down from a total of $78 million the trial judge allowed.

“In our view, Johnson presented abundant—and certainly substantial— evidence that glyphosate, together with the other ingredients in Roundup products, caused his cancer,” the court stated. “Expert after expert provided evidence both that Roundup products are capable of causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma…  and caused Johnson’s cancer in particular.”

The court further noted that “there was overwhelming evidence that Johnson has suffered, and will continue to suffer for the rest of his life, significant pain and suffering.”

The court said that Monsanto’s argument that scientific findings about glyphosate’s links to cancer constituted a “minority view” was not supported.

Notably, the appeals court added that punitive damages were in order because there was sufficient evidence that Monsanto acted with “willful and conscious disregard of others’ safety.”

Mike Miller, whose Virginia law firm represented Johnson at trial along with the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman firm of Los Angeles, said he was cheered at the court’s confirmation that Johnson developed cancer from his use of Roundup and that the court affirmed the award of punitive damages for “Monsanto’s willful misconduct.”

“Mr Johnson continues to suffer from his injuries. We are proud to fight for Mr Johnson and his pursuit of justice,” Miller said.

Monsanto owes annual interest at the rate of 10 percent from April of 2018 until it pays the final judgment.

The reduction in damages is tied in part to the fact that doctors have told Johnson his cancer is terminal and he is not expected to live very much longer. The court agreed with Monsanto that because compensatory damages are designed to compensate for future pain, mental suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, physical impairment, etc…  Johnson’s short life expectancy legally means the future “non-economic” damages awarded by the trial court must be reduced.

Brent Wisner, one of Johnson’s trial attorneys, said the reduction in damages was the result of a “deep flaw in California tort law.”

“Basically, California law does not allow a plaintiff to recover for a shortened life expectancy,” Wisner said. “This effectively rewards a defendant for killing a plaintiff, as opposed to just injuring him. It is madness.”

A spotlight on Monsanto’s conduct

It was just two months after Bayer bought Monsanto, in August 2018, that a unanimous jury awarded Johnson $289 million, including $250 million in punitive damages, finding that not only did Monsanto’s herbicides cause Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but that the company knew of the cancer risks and failed to warn Johnson. The lawsuit involved two Monsanto glyphosate herbicide products – Roundup and Ranger Pro.

The trial judge lowered the total verdict to $78 million but Monsanto appealed the reduced amount. Johnson cross appealed to reinstate the $289 million verdict.

The Johnson trial was covered by media outlets around the world and put a spotlight on questionable Monsanto conduct. Lawyers for Johnson presented jurors with internal company emails and other records showing Monsanto scientists discussing ghostwriting scientific papers to try to shore up support for the safety of the company’s products, along with communications detailing plans to discredit critics, and to quash a government evaluation of the toxicity of glyphosate, the key chemical in Monsanto’s products.

Internal documents also showed that Monsanto expected the International Agency for Research on Cancer would classify glyphosate as a probable or possible human carcinogen in March of 2015 (the classification was as a probable carcinogen) and worked out a plan in advance to discredit the cancer scientists after they issued their classification.

Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Monsanto making claims similar to Johnson’s, and two additional trials have taken place since the Johnson trial. Both those trials also resulted in large verdicts against Monsanto. Both are also under appeal.

In June, Bayer said it had reached a  settlement agreement with attorneys representing 75 percent of the roughly 125,000 filed and yet-to-be filed claims initiated by U.S. plaintiffs who blame exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup for their development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Bayer said it will provide $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve the litigation. But lawyers representing more than 20,000 additional plaintiffs say they have not agreed to settle with Bayer and those lawsuits are expected to continue to work their way through the court system.

In a statement issued after the court ruling, Bayer said it stands behind the safety of Roundup: “The appeal court’s decision to reduce the compensatory and punitive damages is a step in the right direction, but we continue to believe that the jury’s verdict and damage awards are inconsistent with the evidence at trial and the law. Monsanto will consider its legal options, including filing an appeal with the Supreme Court of California.”