Last week, a jury in San Francisco sided with a school groundskeeper who sued Monsanto alleging that his terminal cancer had been caused by their failure to warn users of the dangers posed by their herbicide Roundup. They awarded him over $200 million dollars.
The active ingredient in Roundup, Glyphosate, is one of the most widely used chemicals in the world. Millions of gallons of it are sprayed every year on hundreds of millions of acres of fields, orchards, gardens, golf courses, highway shoulders and almost any other place you can think of where weeds grow.
Roundup does a good job killing weeds, but so do a number of other herbicides. Glyphosate’s ubiquity and dominance over other weedkillers has been it’s purported safety. Monsanto has always claimed that its product is non-toxic and non-carcinogenic; less dangerous than many household cleansers. The herbicide equivalent of a diet that promises you that you can eat all you want and still lose weight. Not surprisingly, it now appears that Monsanto officials knew for years that this claim was in fact “too good to be true”.
Organic farmers were among the first people to raise the red flag about Monsanto’s deceptive business practices and financial contributions to politicians of both parties. They leveraged their political support and immense profits on Roundup to develop GMO corn and soybeans that allowed them to…sell even more Roundup. Then they plowed that money into quietly buying up small seed companies all over the world to establish complete market dominance over that vital industry.
Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate expired several years ago, and other companies developed GMO crop varieties that cut into their profits. Meanwhile, a worldwide backlash was developing against their name and their products. So just last year, the shareholders of the company sold out to Bayer, creating by far the world’s largest chemical and seed company.
As much as so many people –myself included — disliked Monsanto, last week’s jury verdict against them is too little, too late. Bayer will certainly appeal the decision. Meanwhile, Monsanto’s legacy will be difficult to undo. In the span of just 20 years, the company managed to permanently change the face of agriculture worldwide while making almost unimaginable profits.
On the other hand, tens of millions of people worldwide have voted with their dollars for agriculture to take a different path. Last year in the U.S. alone, people bought $50 billion dollars of certified organic food. That number continues to increase every year. If you are rooting against Monsanto’s vision of the world, that’s something to cheer.