A California judge has indicated that lawsuits against Monsanto’s Roundup in his court may be difficult to pursue. The federal judge dealt a potential death blow to a lawsuit claiming Roundup causes cancer when he concluded last week that the plaintiff’s experts’ testimony against Roundup is “shaky.” The case, as well as hundreds of others filed in the federal MDL, now stands in danger of not getting to trial.
First Judge to Opine on Roundup Toxicity
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria is the first judge to opine on the toxicity of Roundup, the world’s most popular poison. Roundup has been the center of controversy for more than 30 years, since the U.S. EPA bent its own rules and regulations to allow it on the market. The judge has indicated he may cut several or all of the plaintiff’s key witnesses, which could make the case impossible to pursue in his court. Such a move could also profoundly impact the outcome of more than 300 Monsanto lawsuits in his court. That’s the number of cases in federal courts trying to hold Monsanto liable for failing to warn about Roundup’s cancer risks.
Chhabria heard from about a dozen witnesses including toxicologists, statisticians and an oncologist. He took special interest in two epidemiologists who study how humans contract disease.
Chhabria said on March 14 that he has a “difficult time understanding how an epidemiologist in the face of all the evidence that we saw and heard last week can conclude that glyphosate is in fact causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma in human beings.” The judge called the evidence that glyphosate is currently causing NHL in human beings “pretty sparse.” The judge was apparently impressed by all the Monsanto-sponsored studies the chemical giant had trotted out earlier to exonerate glyphosate.
The judge also seemed to have fallen for Monsanto’s ploy, which it has gotten away with for decades, through the EPA and other regulatory bodies, to test only glyphosate, instead of the entire concoction of Roundup, which experts estimate to be 1,000 more toxic than glyphosate alone. Nobody uses glyphosate alone, but Monsanto has been able to make that substance the key to the whole poison puzzle.
Reuters reported that it remains to be seen which witnesses the judge will allow to testify at trial on behalf of more than 700 farmers, landscapers and gardeners. All claim that exposure to glyphosate – through skin contact or inhalation — caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Judge Chhabria appeared to give some credit to Beate Ritz, a public health professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, for having conducted independent analysis. Still, he called Ms. Ritz’ conclusion that glyphosate causes NHL in humans “dubious.” He indicated she might be the only witness he allows to testify for the plaintiffs, but even she is at risk of elimination.
Why Not Let a Jury Decide?
Monsanto isn’t completely off the hook, based on what Chhabria said last week. At this stage he is acting as a corporate gatekeeper to exclude evidence not backed by what he calls scientific rigor, or to at least give the appearance that he is doing so. (Politics frequently prevails in federal court; there’s no way around that fact.) His position allows him to decide which witnesses are qualified as “experts” who can present their conclusions to a jury. Chhabria said his role is to decide whether the testimony is “in the range of reasonableness,” not whether glyphosate causes cancer. If you think “reasonableness” is an awfully broad, subjective term, you are exactly right, in your own subjective way. Why not let a jury decide?
Chhabria also termed the epidemiology for Roundup causing cancer as “loosey-goosey” and called it a “highly subjective field.” (Isn’t that what trials are for?) But Chhabria may not be able to ride roughshod over all the plaintiffs’ cases. Some constraints for eliminating witnesses may leave the plaintiffs’ room for Ritz to testify, he conceded. Maybe Ritz “is operating within the mainstream of the field,” he said. “Maybe that means it’s up for the jury to decide if they buy her presentation.”
Chhabria’s use of the word “buy” clearly shows his bias against the plaintiff’s case(s).
The judge noted that Ritz was the only plaintiff’s expert not to rely on a 2015 determination that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization. He said that wasn’t enough to argue exposure to glyphosate is more likely than not the cause of the plaintiffs’ cancer. (A fair legal assessment)
A lawyer for the group suing Monsanto, said “the weight of the epidemiology, toxicology and mechanistic science strongly supports” the conclusion that Roundup causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “Our experts used valid methodologies to arrive at their conclusions,” he said in a statement emailed to Reuters. “Ultimately, we think courts will agree.”
Judge calls Expert Testimony Against Roundup “Shaky”
Judge Chhabria apparently already does not agree, so good luck to plaintiffs in these cases. Our prayers go out to them, and to the truth of Roundup toxicity, that the facts may all come clear in this litigation. Let the truth come out!
The case is In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2741, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).