On Friday, August 10, 2018, a California jury found chemical giant, Monsanto, liable in an unprecedented lawsuit.

Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper, alleged that the company’s products (including Roundup Pro and Ranger Pro – both glyphosate-based weed-killers) caused his cancer. Furthermore, claims that the company was aware of the carcinogenic effects of glyphosate and covered it up for decades.

The ruling said that the potential risks of the products were known by the scientific community and that the company failed to adequately warn of the dangers. The company was ordered to pay $289 million in damages, and Monsanto has said they will appeal the decision.

Johnson, whose doctors predict has only months to live as he continues to undergo treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, hopes his case will help others in similar situations. The outcome of this case (the first such allegation against Monsanto that has gone to trial) may set a meaningful precedent for the more than 5,000 similar cases that have been brought against the company.

Monsanto denies that glyphosate causes cancer, citing hundreds of studies conducted over the 40+ years since glyphosate was first made available as a weed-killer. The credibility of those studies is now coming under more scrutiny, as email records released during the trial show that the company ghostwrote studies to misrepresent results and worked closely with EPA officials to manipulate regulations.

What do we know about glyphosate?

Glyphosate was introduced by Monsanto in 1974 as an herbicide. It is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. If you have experience with Roundup or similar products as a homeowner or gardener, you may be familiar with the efficacy of glyphosate in your own battles against weeds.

READ MORE: History of the chemical farming industry in the United States

The amount of glyphosate found in human beings – from environmental exposure through dietary intake of genetically modified crops – has increased by more than 1000% over the past twenty years.

Results from studies on the effect of glyphosate on micro-organisms vary widely. Animal studies have found that glyphosate is toxic to beneficial gut bacteria, though some soil-based studies have not found any threat to soil micro-organisms from glyphosate.

Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate expired in 2000, and today it is used in many weed-killing products marketed by several different companies. Monsanto currently holds a patent on glyphosate formulations as an antimicrobial agent to control parasitic infection.

 

From the US National Library of Medicine:

Since 1974 in the US, over 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate active ingredient have been applied, or 19 percent of estimated global use of glyphosate (8.6 billion kilograms). Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since so-called “Roundup Ready,” genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the U.S. from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last 10 years. The corresponding share globally is 72 %. In 2014, farmers sprayed enough glyphosate to apply ~1.0 kg/ha (0.8 pound/acre) on every hectare of U.S.-cultivated cropland and nearly 0.53 kg/ha (0.47 pounds/acre) on all cropland worldwide.

Genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops now account for about 56 % of global glyphosate use. In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use. This is likely the case globally, but published global pesticide use data are sparse. Glyphosate will likely remain the most widely applied pesticide worldwide for years to come, and interest will grow in quantifying ecological and human health impacts. Accurate, accessible time-series data on glyphosate use will accelerate research progress.

 

While the EPA does not recognize glyphosate as being carcinogenic and has said as recently as late 2017 that it does not have any other meaningful risks to human health, The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, in contrast, recognizes glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen”, and the State of California added glyphosate to its list of cancer-causing chemicals in July of 2017 and now requires that products containing glyphosate carry warnings.

 

Does glyphosate have an effect on the gut?

Glyphosate has been shown to be ten times more potent than gluten in its ability to degrade tight junctions in the gut membrane wall. Tight junctions, which serve as a sort of firewall, regulating the absorption of water and micronutrients, protect the immune system from exposure to toxins that may be present in the gut. Tight junctions and their functionality continue to draw the focus of scientists around the world, as disruption of tight junctions is associated with various inflammatory diseases.

 

There’s still a lot to learn.

The field of gut health is an exciting one to follow, as it is relatively new and currently such a popular health topic. There’s a lot of research behind the idea that supporting your gut health supports overall wellness. However, there are still questions coming from scientists, healthcare professionals, and the public that challenge the field to produce not only more studies, but better studies, around the microbiome.

We are excited to see this demand for good science, which helps fuel our science team to stay on the forefront of gut health research.

 

We are hopeful

that Mr. Johnson’s victory will set a precedent for change in the industrial food system, and all of us at Team RESTORE will continue to send our thoughts and prayers to him and his family as he fights for his health. Our actions and demands as consumers will continue to drive change in how our food is grown and produced.

READ MORE: Fight the Industrial Food System!

As we all continue to learn more about glyphosate and its effects on people, the environment, and the microbiological environment, we encourage you to support food systems that don’t make use of harmful chemicals and focus on health, quality of nutrition, and soil integrity.