A farmer notices weeds growing among her crop and needs to get them under control. She turns to the leading weed killer on the market, Roundup, and begins spraying it on the plants. The weeds die, and the problem is resolved.
She repeats this process for years. A new crop of plants – coffee beans in this case – and a new infestation of weeds. More Roundup. More spraying. More exposure.
She is eventually diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and given six months to live.
That was in 2003 and, despite her poor prognosis, 69-year old Christine Sheppard is still alive and in remission. The treatment that helped her beat her cancer, however, has left her with intense pain in her hands and legs.
Like many, Ms. Sheppard believes the evidence that suggests that long-term frequent exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, led to her development of the disease that almost took her life 15 years ago. And she’s joined a large group of about 300 people who are suing Monsanto, Roundups manufacturer, for possibly causing it.
The evidence of the link between glyphosate and cancer is strong. Last year, California’s Environmental Protection Agency added it to its list of cancer-causing chemicals maintained under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act and the World Health Organization has classified the chemical as a probable carcinogen since 2015.
Internal Monsanto documents that came to light during a 2017 trial show the company’s extensive attempts to shape public conversations and scientific studies into one of its top-selling products. On the surface, Monsanto stands firmly behind not only the effectiveness of its products but also their safety. It emphasizes the safety of the chemicals people spray on their foods and feed to their families. It emphasizes the safety of the chemicals people spray on the yards that their children play in.
“Glyphosate, the active ingredient in our product, Roundup, we know that it is not a carcinogen,” says Monsanto spokesperson Scott Partridge. “It is completely safe.”
That’s quite a contrast from the internal Monsanto scientist who, in 2001, wrote in a memo that “if someone came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I’d react – with serious concern.”
Hundreds of farm workers, farmers, landscapers, and other outdoor workers who suffered daily exposure to Roundup – and many who still do – would have probably liked to have known about that concern before they received their cancer diagnoses.