By ELIZABETH WARMERDAM
FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – In a preemptive strike, Monsanto sued California to try to stop it from listing glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, as a carcinogen.
Monsanto sued the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) on Thursday in Fresno County Court, seeking an injunction to stop it from glyphosate to the state’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
Glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, is the most commonly used agricultural chemical in the United States.
The OEHHA announced in September last year that it planned to add glyphosate to the Prop. 65 list after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), based in France, classified it in March as a probable human carcinogen.
California law requires certain substances identified by IARC to be listed as carcinogenic, the OEHHA said.
St. Louis-based Monsanto disputes that the chemical is dangerous, claiming that “(n)umerous regulatory agencies and independent scientists have evaluated glyphosate over the course of its more than 40 years of use and have concluded that glyphosate does not present a carcinogenic risk to humans.”
Monsanto says the OEHHA itself evaluated glyphosate in 1997 and in 2007 and determined that it was unlikely to pose a cancer hazard to humans.
In relying on IARC’s conclusion that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, OEHHA overruled its own conclusion and “effectively elevated the determination of an ad hoc committee of an unelected, foreign body, which answers to no United States official (let alone any California state official), over the conclusions of its own scientific experts,” Monsanto says in its complaint.
Monsanto says the members of IARC were hand-picked, conducted their assessment in a non-transparent process, and selectively included and interpreted only a subset of the data available on glyphosate.
Listing the chemical on Prop. 65 would require Monsanto and others offering products containing glyphosate to warn consumers that the chemical is known to cause cancer, which Monsanto said would damage its reputation and hurt sales.
Forcing it to post a “clear and reasonable” warning that glyphosate-based products contain a chemical “known to the state to cause cancer” would be false, and unconstitutional compelled speech, Monsanto says.
Prop. 65 listing also would limit use of glyphosate by municipalities, because some of them prohibit use of listed chemicals, which would force them to consider other less-effective or costly ways to control weeds, according to Monsanto.
“The public would be harmed as well because listing glyphosate would create unfounded consumer fear, causing farmers, government agencies, and other users of glyphosate-based herbicides to switch to other products and/or processes for vegetation management that may not provide the same level of safety, effectiveness, or reliability,” Monsanto says.
Roundup generated $4.8 billion in revenue for Monsanto in 2015. It is applied to “Roundup Ready” crops that are genetically modified to resist it.
Environmentalists have long questioned the safety of glyphosate. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to analyze the effects of glyphosate on endangered species, one week after France banned the sale of Roundup at garden centers throughout that country.
Phil Miller, vice president of regulatory affairs at Monsanto, said that glyphosate is “an efficient, effective and safe tool for weed control” and that California should “uphold its own science-based conclusions.”
OEHHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment over the weekend.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture last year deregulated three strains of genetically modified Monsanto corn and a genetically modified Monsanto potato, all of them modified to resist glyphosate.