Glyphosate: Science On Trial

The world's most popular weed killer, Glyphosate, is being placed under the microscope by scientists, regulators and plaintiff lawyers. Despite four decades of widespread commercial and domestic use on the assumption it was safe, there has been recent increased worldwide concern about myriad potential health effects of exposure to the substance.

A test case in California, has hit the headlines globally this week. This case resulted in the jury finding Roundup was unsafe and was a substantial factor in causing the Plaintiff school groundskeeper's lymphoma. Awarding $39.25 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages, the jury also found that Monsanto had failed to adequately warn consumers of the risks associated with its products and that the company acted with malice or oppression. Monsanto has vigorously protested the safety of its product and indicated it intends to appeal.

Scientific opinion concerning the dangers of this emerging risk is divided. Some claim that exposure is linked to everything from cancer to infertility; whilst others conclude the pesticide does not pose a threat. With some countries already banning the compound and the judgment in the US, prudent businesses and insurers must consider steps to understand and mitigate their risk now.

Glyphosate is the main chemical in the world's most widely used pesticide. It was first introduced by Monsanto under the brand name 'Roundup' in 1974. Worldwide glyphosate use has increased 15 times since 1996 when resistant crops began to be genetically engineered. In the US, more than 750 products contain it and in the UK, 5.4 million acres of farmland are treated with glyphosate annually.

The current controversy largely results from conflicting reports about the chemical's risks to the environment and effects on the human population, particularly in relation to the food chain. A number of recent articles and studies claim products from corn to cosmetics contain harmful levels of glyphosate.

Concern is also arising from research reports that indicate glyphosate causes a variety of health problems including Alzheimer's disease, kidney and liver diseases, and reproductive problems. Animal data studies have also reportedly raised the possibility of health effects associated with chronic, ultra-low doses related to accumulation of these compounds in the environment.

The substance potentially presents an occupational hazard for those involved in its manufacture or...

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