The Iowa Soybean Association board of directors Nov. 16 unanimously approved ISA joining as a co-plaintiff in legal action challenging the state of California’s decision to list the popular herbicide glyphosate as a carcinogen.
Monsanto Co. and a dozen state and national farm groups filed the lawsuit Nov. 15 suing California’s Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) for adding glyphosate to its list of cancer-causing chemicals. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s top-selling Roundup weed killer. The California office made its decision in July.
What is this glyphosate lawsuit about?
“Specifically, the suit disputes the state’s inaccurate classification of glyphosate under California’s Proposition 65,” says Kirk Leeds, CEO of the ISA. “The impact of California’s listing on farmers could be very detrimental. It would be a devastating blow to Iowa soybean farmers and an industry valued at more than $5 billion.”
California’s Prop 65, a ballot initiative passed in 1986, requires the state to protect drinking water sources “from being contaminated with chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.” It also requires businesses to warn California users about their chemicals’ dangers.
The decision to put glyphosate on the list and add a carcinogen warning on the label in 2018 would not only hurt Monsanto, the St. Louis company said in a statement, but also crops grown by U.S. farmers who use the herbicide, and food products derived from those crops. Products sold with even traces of glyphosate in California could be required to add a label next year that Monsanto says would be “false and misleading.”
Glyphosate deemed safe by EPA
“Glyphosate is one of the safest herbicides ever developed and has been rigorously tested by the U.S. government for decades, continually passing as noncarcinogenic,” Leeds says.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has allowed glyphosate use since the 1970s, and the herbicide has come under regular review. California’s effort to list glyphosate as a carcinogen could result in farmers abandoning the herbicide, which would likely require farmers to use more tillage to control weeds, says Leeds, or switch to harsher chemicals. Growers could also be required to segregate crops grown with glyphosate, adding costs for consumers. The lawsuit says 250 crops are grown using glyphosate.
What is this lawsuit challenging?
Leeds says the California listing “violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it compels the plaintiffs in the case to make false, misleading and highly controversial statements about their products.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer determined in 2015 that glyphosate probably causes cancer in people. The California OEHHA’s action to list the herbicide as a carcinogen was prompted after the French-based IARC reported that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic. The report automatically triggered California’s listing mechanism under Prop 65.
Plaintiffs, including the ISA, seek dilatory and injunctive relief against the OEHHA to prevent it from mandating false, misleading and highly controversial cancer warnings concerning the herbicide.
Who are the other plaintiffs?
The plaintiffs include the National Corn Growers Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, U.S. Durum Growers Association, Agri-Turf Distributing LLC, Missouri Farm Bureau, South Dakota Agri-Business Association, Western Plant Health Association, North Dakota Grain Growers Association, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Monsanto Co., Associated Industries of Missouri and the Agribusiness Association of Iowa.
Leeds says, “The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s arbitrary determination that glyphosate negatively impacts consumers and food producers sets a dangerous precedent and threatens the continued availability of other valuable food production tools.”
ISA: Listing by California unreasonable
Leeds says, “The unreasonable listing by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment of glyphosate as a carcinogen as compelled by Prop 65 is unreasonable. Should labeling proceed, the ripple effect could mean environmental concerns and increased production costs to be passed along to the consumer. And a threat to the viability of the state and country’s soybean crop given intensified weed pressures.”
He says, “Glyphosate is one of the safest herbicides ever developed and has been rigorously tested by the U.S. government for decades, continually passing as noncarcinogenic. The determination by IARC, a France-based, nonscientific organization, that glyphosate is ‘probably carcinogenic’ counters the conclusion of every global regulator that has examined the issue over the past 40 years. Not only does the scientific community disagree with IARC’s findings, the organization’s internal process for reviewing glyphosate — along with other ‘possible’ or ‘probable carcinogens’ like french fries and coffee — has also been roundly criticized.
“The Iowa Soybean Association is proud to join other plaintiffs, including the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, in defending farmers, science and a safe and abundant food supply.”