By Sheina Crystal on July 07, 2022
In recent weeks there have been several important wins for activists and organizations, including HFC, fighting to end reliance on glyphosate-based herbicides, including: The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruling that the EPA had not adequately assessed the safety of glyphosate, and the US Supreme Court’s rejection of a couple of Bayer’s appeals to dismiss legal claims by customers who say its weed killer causes cancer. Let’s take a closer look at these wins and unpack what they mean for the movement:
In the first case, NRDC vs. USEPA, groups including National Resource Defense Council, the Center for Food Safety, and Rural Coalition sued the US EPA, challenging the EPA’s conclusions that glyphosate posed little risk to humans and wildlife.
The court found that the EPA’s reasoning for their claim that glyphosate poses “no risks to human health” was not supported by “substantial evidence.” Essentially, the EPA’s reason for deeming glyphosate “safe” was based on the premise that an association between exposure to glyphosate and cancer could not be determined based on the available evidence. The court decided that the EPA’s inability to reach a conclusion about glyphosate’s carcinogenic nature was not the same as glyphosate being safe for humans. As a result, the EPA must now re-do the human health portion of their analysis. The court also decided that the EPA must issue a new ecological portion of their analysis by October 2022.
This court ruling has big implications for the fight against this toxic weedkiller, which is the most widely used herbicide in the world. In re-doing the human health and ecological portion of their analysis, the EPA must now fully address the spectrum of human and environmental health impacts of glyphosate, including impacts to endangered species. They must take a more precautionary approach to their analysis, and can not simply fall back on their inability to determine if glyphosate is carcinogenic.
Additionally, in the past few weeks, the Supreme Court rejected two of Bayer’s attempts to dismiss lawsuits in which consumers, Edwin Hardeman in one case and Alva and Alberta Pilliod in another, have contracted Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma after exposure to glyphosate. These decisions mean that the lower court’s verdicts ($25 million awarded to Hardeman, and $86.7 million to the Pilliod couple) are left intact. In appealing these cases to the Supreme Court, Bayer was trying to shift the blame from themselves to the USEPA, claiming that because the EPA has determined that glyphosate is safe, then they have no responsibility to warn customers about the dangers of using glyphosate-based products.
The dismissal of these cases means that Bayer is running out of ways to skirt liability. Although many cases claiming that glyphosate-based products caused cancer have been settled (approximately 100,000 out of 138,000 cases), the US Supreme Court’s rejection of Bayer’s appeal bodes well for those that have not yet settled and for cases to come.
Sheina Crystal is the Director of Communications and Campaigns at Re:wild Your Campus. While a student at UC Santa Barbara, she founded a chapter of Re:wild Your Campus and worked with groundskeepers and restoration management as she advocated for the reduction of herbicide use on campus. As one of the main UC-wide organizers, she helped achieve a glyphosate ban at all 10 University of California schools. In addition to directing communications at RYC, she helped spearhead the Green Grounds Certification, a groundbreaking ecological landscaping certification by RYC to certify school campuses. Crystal's work has appeared in The New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, Axios, Mother Jones, and more. Sheina works directly with students across the country, giving them resources and coaching as they advocate to make their campuses safer and healthier spaces for all living beings.