Glyphosate ruling: Monsanto to pay huge fine

A US jury has sentenced Bayer subsidiary Monsanto to pay 254 million euros in damages. It ruled that the company had failed to properly warn Dewayne Johnson, a gardener suffering from cancer, of the risks of using the weedkiller Roundup, which contains glyphosate. What consequences will the ruling have for farmers and chemicals giant Bayer?

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The Guardian (GB) /

Help farmers switch to organic methods

In the end the herbicide Roundup will be banned, environmentalist Natalie Bennett predicts in The Guardian:

“The path of Roundup is one we have seen taken by many other poisons introduced into the food we eat, the air we breathe and the soil we depend on for life. They are introduced as a wonder. But soon a few campaigners, and ill people, start to wonder about their real effects. Public concern grows and eventually they are banned. … Weeding out the poisons from Europe's food and farming sector will benefit public health and the environment - and it is eminently achievable. But farmers need support in adapting to viable and affordable alternatives to chemicals, like the methods being showcased by farmers in the rapidly expanding organic sector.” (DE) /

Human factor underestimated

Monsanto will cast its long shadow over its new owner, German chemical giant Bayer, for a long time to come, suspects:

“Certainly, in its history Bayer has already had plenty of experience with long and costly trials over the undesired side-effects of its medications. But the avalanche it now faces is likely to eclipse all that has gone before it. And the company from Leverkusen carelessly brought this problem on itself. ... American juries are made up of laypeople who sometimes make decisions based more on gut feeling than facts. In that way they're very similar to normal consumers. It's precisely this human factor that Monsanto and Bayer completely underestimated.”

Newsweek Polska (PL) /

Judgement based on emotions, not facts

The judgement is absurd, biologist Łukasz Sakowski writes in Newsweek Polska:

“It was reached by a jury none of whose members were scientists or experts who could properly assess the situation and its context. People who were deeply moved by the plaintiff's illness decided that glyphosate caused the tumour. ... But the fact is that glyphosate is one of the most studied and safest pesticides. It blocks an enzyme that is present in plants and certain microorganisms but has no negative impact on mammals - including humans. In addition, it has been classified as less toxic than caffeine, vitamin B1, vitamin D and aspirin.”

El País (ES) /

Monsanto in better position than tobacco industry

It won't be that easy for the agricultural sector to dispense with pesticides, El País points out:

“This battle harks back to the times when the tobacco companies were under fire at the end of the 20th century. Like back then, the legal problem is less the damaging impact on health than the concealment of crucial data about that impact. ... But it's not so easy to make do without Monsanto products. Without pesticides, agricultural production would sink dramatically (in some cases by up to 90 percent). Could the planet feed so many thousands of people without intensive farming and pesticides? Greenpeace believes it can. But the answer right now lies in the careful use of this type of product, in the prohibition of some of them, and most definitely in keeping users informed until less damaging pesticides are available.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Lobbies have a firm hold on the authorities

The French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot wants to "declare war" on the pesticide. Le Monde is sceptical:

“The force of his words is meant to hide the fact that the authorities are powerless here. Glyphosate is not the worst of poisons as is often affirmed, and many other pesticides are far more problematic. But it's the most widely used around the world. It's omnipresent, and in two decades has become the cornerstone of production-oriented farming methods which remain - despite the increasingly visible and well-documented harm they cause - largely untouchable. The power of the lobbying groups undermines confidence and damages democracy.”

Irish Examiner (IE) /

All power to consumers!

Adequate food labelling of the controversial herbicide should at least make it possible for consumers to choose another product, the Irish Examiner demands:

“That uncertainty is reflected in the disagreement between international agencies. ... As is nearly always the case in these situations, conscientious lay people are in a quandary: Who do they believe? In that context, the very least consumers should accept is a new regime of food labelling that declares if Roundup was used in the production process or not. It may not be banned but we should certainly be able to avoid it if we so wish.”