In January 2016, career California school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson took legal action against the Monsanto company. Alleging his 2014 diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma was a result of his prolonged use of Monsanto products, specifically the brand’s weedkillers, this case became the first of its kind to go to trial. By August 2018, the jury ruled in favor of Johnson and awarded him a total of $289 million in damages.
The jury concluded that the risks of prolonged usage of Monsanto glyphosate herbicide formulas posed a risk to users. Furthermore, Monsanto either knew or should have known of these risks and failed to adequately alert users and perhaps even did so with malice. This precedent setting case, however, was far from over. Not long after this initial verdict, Monsanto asked it be overruled claiming that Johnson “presented no cleat evidence of malice to support and award of punitive damages.” This request was denied and set in motion a chain of events that would lead us to ask ourselves: What is truly “safe” for humans?
Following this verdict in favor of Johnson, the state of California stepped in as well and added glyphosate to Prop 65, listing it a chemical that was known to cause cancer. Making moves to require this label be added to Mansanto products packaging, courts ruled against this request but still allowed glyphosate to be listed among other “cancer-causing” products along side canned tuna, potatoes, and authentic Tiffany lamps. What’s safe for humans though, is a subjective term; if being a “non-carcinogenic threat” to humans means “safe,” who makes that decision? Nearly every study concluded that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans, aside from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the study the state of California cited in their addition to Prop 65.
Much research into glyphosate and its formulations is still ongoing. Detailed in this infographic is more information on the Johnson v Monsanto case, the science that backs up the verdict, and what to expect in future cases.