Australia urged to restrict Monsanto's Roundup after US court rules it caused cancer
The Guardian 13 August 2018 | Naaman Zhou
Greenpeace says government should be ‘exercising the precautionary principle’ until more studies conducted
Greenpeace has called on the Australian government to suspend the sale of the weedkiller Roundup after a US court ruled it had caused the terminal cancer of an American man.
On Friday, the San Francisco superior court of California ruled that Roundup caused school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma – a fatal blood cell cancer.
The jury also found that manufacturer Monsanto “knew for decades” the product was potentially dangerous, and acted “with malice or oppression” by failing to warn Johnson of the risks.
The weedkiller is widely available in Australian supermarkets and hardware stores, and Greenpeace said the government must now take “urgent action” to restrict it.
The active chemical in Roundup – glyphosate – was classified as “probably carcinogenic” in 2015 by the World Health Organisation.
It is still approved for use in Australia, and is the most commonly used herbicide in the world.
Monsanto’s vice president, Scott Partridge, has insisted that Roundup is safe, saying on Friday that the “verdict doesn’t change the four-plus decades of safe use and science behind the product”.
A spokeswoman for Monsanto in Australia told Guardian Australia: “The US Environmental Protection Agency and regulatory authorities around the world, including Australia, support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer.”
But Greenpeace said the federal government should suspend the use of glyphosate until more studies were conducted.
“We need to be urgently exercising the precautionary principle,” said Jamie Hanson, Greenpeace’s head of campaigns. “Use of this dangerous product should be severely restricted.
“Roundup is widely available for sale in Australia ... potentially exposing millions of people to its harmful effects. This case is only the first of hundreds that have been filed in the US claiming Roundup causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma. We have no idea how far this will spread and how many more are to come.”
The UK hardware chain Homebase announced it would review its sale of Roundup in the wake of the court decision.
But Bunnings Warehouse in Australia said it had not removed Roundup because it was still classified safe by the government regulator.
“We follow advice from Australia’s chemical regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, for this product,” Clive Duncan, Bunnings’s director of marketing and merchandise, said.
“We take customer and team member welfare extremely seriously and strongly recommend users read and follow the directions and recommendations listed on the labels and packaging.”
The chief executive of Cancer Council Australia, Professor Sanchia Aranda, said Roundup posed no threat to “mum-and-dad gardeners” as long as they took precautions.
“This risk is only classified for people who use it in the workplace on a regular basis,” she said. “There is no evidence there is a danger to mum-and-dad gardeners, or kids who play in parks where Roundup is being sprayed.
“[Wear] protective clothing to stop it getting on your skin – it doesn’t need to be industrial protection – just make sure your arms and legs are covered. Wear a mask so you don’t inhale it.”
But she said this advice would change if Monsanto was hiding more information about Roundup.
“The most concerning thing is the suggestion that they are holding any information back. We want to emphasise that if there is other information that Monsanto have, that they must be transparent. We have zero tolerance for companies who protect their shareholders over the public.”
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority confirmed the court decision would not change Roundup’s status in Australia.
“The APVMA is aware of the decision in the Californian superior court,” a spokesman said. “Glyphosate is registered for use in Australia and APVMA approved products containing glyphosate can continue to be used safely according to label directions.”
Monsanto said it intenedd to appeal against the decision in the US.
Shares in an Australian maker of a similar product, Nufarm Ltd, fell 17% after the weekend’s decision, hitting a two-year low.