Two legal teams assemble in a San Francisco courtroom to argue whether the most popular weed killer in the world caused a school system groundskeeper to develop a terminal instance of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The jury hears the science behind the claims and the challenges to those scientific findings. They get a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the most secretive corporations on the planet. And they meet the man whose life will most likely be cut short by the act of simply going about his day-to-day duties and doing his job. They meet Dewayne Johnson; the father and husband who, according to one of his doctors, will not likely live to see 2020.
In the end, the jury finds Monsanto responsible for Johnson’s cancer and awards him $289 million dollars.
In another courtroom just 90 miles away, two other legal teams assemble in front of a judge. The question is whether glyphosate – the chemical in question in the San Francisco case – should be covered under California’s Proposition 65 law and carry warnings that it has been found to be harmful. The two arguments used by the two opposing sides follow much of the same tracks used in the Johnson case. The same questions are asked of the same findings. The same research is cited.
And, in the end, U.S. District Judge William Shubb finds that a “heavy weight of evidence” indicates that glyphosate is safe, and that Roundup will not be forced to carry California’s Proposition 65 warning on its packaging.
While one could argue that there could be a multitude of reasons for the drastic difference in outcomes between the two trials, one difference cannot be overlooked. In one instance, a jury heard from the person whose life they believed will be cut short because of the product in question. In the other, a judge only heard arguments presented by lawyers and made a decision with no additional testimony or input. One trial was about a human life while the other explored a corporation’s right to free speech.
The results of the two trials show that while the Johnson decision was a huge blow against Monsanto and the tactics the corporation has used to sway opinion regarding the safety of its products, the fact still remains that as a corporation in the United States, it still enjoys rights over and above the rights of those its actions and products may harm.
A jury found that a man’s life was cut short by Monsanto. A judge ruled that forcing Monsanto to take responsibility for that and own up to glyphosate’s dangers would violate Monsanto’s right to free speech.
We still have a very long way to go.