(San Francisco, Cal.) Yesterday, Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed the opening arguments and evidence in its litigation challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) re-approval of glyphosate, best known as the active ingredient in Monsanto's "Roundup" pesticides. Representing a broad coalition of farmworkers, farmers, and conservationists, CFS filed the federal lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in March. The groups seek to have the pesticide prohibited from use or sale because of its unlawful approval.
"Farmworkers are on the frontlines of nearly every health and environmental crisis, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change, and are particularly at risk of health impacts from pesticide spraying," said Amy van Saun, senior attorney at CFS. "EPA failed these essential workers. It rejected evidence that glyphosate causes cancer and entirely failed to assess the main way people are exposed at work, through their skin."
Today's filing includes volumes of evidence showing how EPA ignored glyphosate's health risks, including cancer risks, to farmworkers and farmers exposed during spraying. The evidence filed also shows how EPA disregarded glyphosate's ecological impacts and that EPA failed to account for the costs to farmers from glyphosate-resistant "superweeds" and off-field drift damage.
"Farmworkers and farmers are the backbone of our food system. As we demonstrate in this filing, they are the first—but not the last—to bear the huge costs of EPA's deeply flawed and unlawful re-approval of glyphosate, while corporate shareholders of Monsanto-Bayer benefit," said John Zippert, chairperson of the Rural Coalition, the lead petitioner in the case.
While EPA once recognized glyphosate might cause cancer, it now finds this possibility to be "not likely." In contrast, the world's foremost cancer authorities with the World Health Organization determined in 2015 that glyphosate is 'probably carcinogenic to humans.' In June, Bayer agreed to pay up to $10.9 billion to roughly 125,000 people in thousands of lawsuits arguing Roundup was responsible for their non-Hodgkin lymphomas, a cancer that originates in lymph tissue. The plaintiffs have prevailed in all the trials so far, with victims awarded $25-80 million in each case.
"Farmworkers cannot wait any longer for EPA to ban glyphosate—a pesticide that risks their health and the health of their children," said Jeannie Economos of the Farmworker Association of Florida, a plaintiff in the case. "The public now knows that farmworkers are 'essential workers,' but they have always been essential. Their work feeds the people of this country and they deserve to be protected from a pesticide known to cause chronic diseases."
EPA also issued the challenged re-approval without any consideration of the dire risks glyphosate poses to threatened and endangered species. A belated EPA assessment—which was required by law before the approval, not after—has now confirmed these risks, finding that glyphosate will likely have adverse effects on at least 1,676 different species protected by the Endangered Species Act (93% of those exposed) and on 96% of their critical habitats. Instead of ensuring this pesticide will not cause the extinction of these species, EPA's decision allows it to be sprayed on 285 million acres of farmland a year, with 21 million pounds applied to forests, parks, lawns, schoolyards, and roadways.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges EPA failed to account for the risks glyphosate poses to honey bees, other pollinators, and the iconic Monarch butterfly. Monarch butterflies face possible extinction due in part to glyphosate's near-eradication of their critical host plant, common milkweed, from Midwest farm fields. On December 15th, in response to a 2014 CFS petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife confirmed the Monarchs' precarious state, concluding that Monarchs warrant protected status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), though formal listing was postponed to 2024 due to the Service's backlog of other ESA cases.
"Glyphosate use and resulting exposures represent a serious threat to the safety of people and the environment, including many hundreds of endangered species—facts astonishingly ignored by regulators," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a plaintiff in the case. "It is unfortunate that it takes a lawsuit like this to force EPA to carry out its responsibility in the face of a mountain of scientific findings that document glyphosate's harm," Mr. Feldman added.
The evidence filed today also reveals EPA's failure to assess the substantial costs incurred by farmers due to the glyphosate-resistant weed epidemic unleashed by massive use of this herbicide on genetically-engineered crops, as well as plant and crop damage from glyphosate drift.
"The industry's response to glyphosate-resistant weeds has been crops resistant to additional herbicides like dicamba, which has caused enormous drift damage and still more intractable weeds," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at CFS. "EPA has done nothing to halt or even slow this toxic spiral of increasing resistance and herbicide use."
Represented by Center for Food Safety, the plaintiffs in the case include the Rural Coalition, Farmworker Association of Florida, Organización en California de Lideres Campesinas, and Beyond Pesticides.