Judge Rules Against California’s Bid to Require Cancer Label on Roundup

June 23, 2020 by Dan McCue

California can’t require a cancer warning label on Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a federal judge ruled Monday, saying the state hadn’t met the legal standard for such a requirement.

California requires warning labels on cancer-causing products under the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Currently the state identifies about 900 chemicals that could trigger such a warning.

Under the law, which was approved by public referendum in 1986, businesses selling potentially cancer-causing  products must provide “clear and reasonable warnings” to the public — unless the anticipated level of exposure would pose no significant cancer risk.

The law defines “no significant risk” as a level of exposure that would cause no more than 1 extra case of cancer in 100,000 people over a 70-year lifetime. 

The state wanted to label products containing glyphosate — the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup — because of a 2015 finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, that glyphosate was a probable cause of cancer in humans.

Monsanto sued and in 2018, U.S. District Judge William Shubb temporarily blocked the warning label. 

In issuing a permanent injunction on Monday, Shubb said Supreme Court precedent precludes states from requiring a private company to change its labels unless the statement to be added is “purely factual and non-controversial.”

The judge said the cancer warning California wanted on Roundup would not come close to meeting that standard, because most regulatory bodies — including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and most of its counterparts in Europe — have found no connection between the herbicide and the disease.

“The great weight of evidence indicates that glyphosate is not known to cause cancer,” the judge wrote.

Shubb rejected proposals by Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office to reword the label warnings to include both the IARC and EPA findings and a reference to a website for further information. 

The judge said such rewording would mislead the public because it would give them the unwarranted impression that there is equal weight of evidence on both sides of the issue.

Becerra’s office said it is reviewing Monday’s decision.

In the meantime, Monsanto cheered the ruling, saying in a written statement that Shubb’s decision is “a very important ruling for California agriculture and for science.”

Monsanto contends the product is safe but is facing thousands of lawsuits. Cancer victims in Northern California have won nearly $200 million in awards in three lawsuits, including a couple last year who were awarded about $2 billion. That award was later reduced to $87 million. 

All of the verdicts are currently being appealed.

Last year, the Trump administration said it wouldn’t approve warning labels for products that contain glyphosate because its research showed the chemical poses no risks to public health. 

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