Glyphosate Verdicts Fueled by Emotion, Not Science

Another glyphosate-cancer trial in California has ended, with a jury awarding more than $2 billion to an elderly couple that claimed using glyphosate since the 1970s caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma. While this amount is almost certainly going to be reduced by the trial judge, the reason it is so high in the first place has more to do with “sending a message” to glyphosate’s current owner, Bayer, than in actually considering the regulatory science behind glyphosate.

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“We wanted to get their attention,” one of the jurors said of the size of the verdict in an online interview. “We wanted this verdict to have a ‘punch-in-the-gut effect.’”

And what about the science? A judge in one of these cases, Vince Chhabria of San Francisco, held several pre-trial hearings on this matter, concluding that the evidence that glyphosate could cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma seemed “pretty sparse.” He reportedly questioned how “an epidemiologist could conclude, in the face of all the evidence, that glyphosate is, in fact, causing [the disease] in human beings.”

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This conclusion was backed up recently by the EPA, which released a press release reaffirming the agency’s view that glyphosate “does not cause cancer in humans.” In fact, this is something Bayer plans to use as part of its appeals process regarding the $2 billion glyphosate verdict. This argument contends that since the EPA is a federal agency (and has formally registered glyphosate for use after its own round of safety testing), preemption, defined as “a doctrine in law according to which federal law supersedes state law when federal law is in conflict with a state law,” should come into play in this case.

Of course, the larger question is if any of these efforts to use science from accredited federal entities in court will matter to juries “trying to send a message to Big Agriculture.” The next glyphosate trial is set for Missouri – the home state of glyphosate’s former owner, Monsanto. Hopefully, the jury seated in this case, in the “Show Me” state no less, will be better able to separate science from emotion.

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