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US landmark weedkiller case may have worldwide implications

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US landmark weedkiller case may have world wide implications

On Friday 10th August 2018 in California, after a trial lasting several weeks, a jury found in favour of Dewayne Johnson; he was awarded $289m in damages after the jurors found that agribusiness giant Monsanto's flagship Roundup weedkiller did cause his cancer and that Monsanto had failed to provide any warnings that exposure to Roundup was hazardous to health. The jury ruled that the company was responsible for “negligent failure” and knew, or ought to have known, that its product was dangerous.

Dewayne Johnson was a school groundsman regularly exposed to large volumes of the weedkiller. He was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma in 2014 aged 42.

Johnson is the first person whose lawsuit against Monsanto, one of thousands, was permitted to proceed to trial. Another is scheduled to begin in Autumn in Missouri. Monsanto intends to appeal the Johnson decision.

Contentious chemical

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and is the chemical deemed to have caused Johnson's cancer.

The dangers of glyphosate are, however, hotly debated, both in the US and Europe. In 2015 the World Health Organisation's cancer agency, The International Agency for Research on Cancer, concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen (a cancer-causing agent). Critics say the use of glyphosate reduces biodiversity by killing plants essential to many insects and other animals.

Monsanto, however, has long argued that Roundup, in use since 1974, is safe and not linked to cancer.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has previously approved the use of glyphosate. It is registered in 130 countries and approved for use on 100 different crops.

In November 2017, the European Commission granted the weedkiller another five year licence, although France's President Macron is planning to get it banned in his country by 2020.

How could this affect the UK?

In the UK, Roundup weedkiller is frequently used by council workers, grounds people and agricultural workers, among others. It is readily available to buy for use in domestic gardens.

The verdict is likely to bring even more cases of people alleging that Roundup has caused them to develop cancer and possibly other illnesses.

It was argued in the Monsanto trial that the company knew the product was dangerous at the time Dewayne Johnson was using it. Monsanto strongly refute this.

It remains to be seen whether future cases will be successful as the Johnson verdict will be strongly fought by Monsanto.

At the very least, if Roundup doesn't face any bans, we may see it starting to appear with a clear health warning, just as cigarettes now carry.

According to recent UK newspaper articles, B&Q, Homebase and Wilko are reviewing their sale of Roundup since the Johnson v Monsanto decision.

By Angeline Holmes, paralegal in the personal injury department