The truth is finally out. US pesticide maker Monsanto, which had recently been acquired by German giant Bayer, gave Dewayne Lee Johnson cancer. A California Superior Court, San Francisco in a grand jury decision awarded Johnson $289 million dollars as damages from Bayer/Monsanto. This David and Goliath battle between Johnson, an African-American man of modest incomewho works as a school groundskeeper, and the German agri-chemical conglomerate Bayer/Monsanto, resulted in victory for real science and Johnson.
This historic judgment comes at a time when there are "4,000 other cases" filed in the US alone by victims who have been affected by the toxicity of the world’s most used herbicide Roundup (Glyphosate). Even now, countless others are suffering terrible deaths stretched across India to Argentina after being exposed to this herbicide. Bayer/Monsanto's love affair with industrial poisons and biological weapons is hardly a new one. Over the last century, they have manufactured the deadliest chemicals, starting from mustard gas in World War I to Zyklon-B for Hitler's concentration camps, and finally, known for the production of the infamous bio-weapon Agent Orange, used extensively in Vietnam.
But war crimes are not what they have been charged for this time. Bayer/Monsanto mislabeled its Roundup and Ranger-Pro range of herbicide as “safe products”, even after the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its assessment found it to be a “probable carcinogenic” in a 2015 report, and yet, Monsanto countered them with their company’s belief and “Monsanto science” that it did not give cancer. Bayer/Monsanto cheated and withheld information about the “probable” carcinogenic properties of Roundup.
Bobby Kennedy Jr, one of the lawyers representing Johnson, termed this case a fight between “Monsanto science vs the American Jury and American justice system". There is no doubt that Monsanto propaganda in guise of science failed to impress the jurors. Elaborating further on Bayer/Monsanto, Kennedy adds, “Here is a company that used all of the plays in the playbook developed by the tobacco industry to escape the consequence of killing one out of five of their customers. There is strong scientific evidence that Monsanto product has given him (Johnson) this cancer.”
Roundup is a trade name for Bayer/Monsanto glyphosate-based herbicide, which currently is the most sold pesticide/herbicide in the world. In India, this herbicide is rampantly being used, most often illegally and without the knowledge of the farmers. It is being sold from Punjab to Maharashtra over the counter by Mahyco Monsanto, a 50-50 joint venture of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co and Monsanto, agents and traders. Roundup in India is being sprayed heavily on tea plantations and even being used on wheat as a desiccant.
Various medical defects result from the ingestion or contact with this herbicide. They range from birth defects, kidney and liver failures, DNA damage, infertility, cancer, mineral depletions, endocrine disruptions, cerebral atrophy, heart cell toxicity and overall toxicity in human cells. The full list of damages done by the use and ingestion of Roundup is a very, very long one.
The Roundup mystery is far from solved. Earlier this year, a group of French scientists found out that Bayer/Monsanto has been lying about the toxicity and formulants of Roundup. On scientific analysis, they found that Bayer/Monsanto has been selling highly hazardous heavy metals such as arsenic, cobalt, chromium (Cr), nickel (Ni) and lead (Pb) inside an innocuous looking bottle of Roundup, disguising them as “formulants”. They also discovered that the formulants (mixture of heavy metals) were about 1,000 times more toxic and poisonous than the already toxic active ingredient glyphosate.
Sri Lanka took cognisance of this public health epidemic in 2014 and banned the herbicide after a scientific study proved the connection between over 40,000 kidney failures and Roundup. This emergency step was taken contrary to the interests of the powerful tea industry, in order to avert a public health disaster. The French professor Dr Gilles-Eric Seralini, University of Caen and an expert on biosafety of Roundup and GMOs, in a statement after the victory, said, “The toxicities of GMOs tolerant of Roundup, and of the Roundup itself, are now demonstrated. The Roundup contains glyphosate, but also arsenic and highly toxic petroleum derivatives not declared as active principles."
"Arsenic in Roundup may explain skin cancer, it is recognised by professionals (scientists/doctors) but it was not declared by (Bayer/Monsanto) Monsanto. This has held up in the appeal court, in my opinion.”
Poison in our rotis
It's 5.30 am in Bathinda, the rural cancer capital of India, the sun is almost breaking the twilight on Ramandeep Singh’s (name changed) farm. He has been waiting for the rain, that failed to bless his farm once again this morning. His hybrid seeds may fail for lack of rain. Ramandeep is anxious.
Fearing a pest attack, he runs back to his thatched shed, to get to his field the latest “medicine” (pesticide/herbicide) to spray on his field. As he opens the yellow bottle, he shows us the label — Glyphosate. Unaware of the toxicity, he mixes it with water, and begins readying his spray machine for the day. This is the story of millions of farmers in India, who are sold this highly toxic pesticide in India for its strong pesticidal properties, without no warning of its toxicity.
Punjab is the hotbed of rural cancer in India. A cancer train leaves almost everyday to cancer hospitals in Rajasthan. Medical experts have linked pesticides to the many “unknown” causes of cancer in the area. A few studies also point to the high level of pesticides in human blood samples from the area.
So, I ask Ramandeep about the use of this glyphosate-based “medicine”. He confirms all my fears, “We use it in all seasons, mostly on cotton, rice and wheat too. We also use it to dry our wheat crop faster, it's easier that way.”
There have been studies that have confirmed Roundup and GMO contamination in US and Europe. India too is now a major victim of Roundup poisoning. From our infant products to beer, we have hidden Roundup residues in most of our food, in particular, wheat, soybean oil, corn and corn-based produce imported from GMO growing countries like Brazil, USA, etc.
India has no public mechanism to control this, despite the concerns expressed by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) on the use of Roundup. The Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court has asked for a ban on all herbicide tolerant (HT) crops.
While Bayer/Monsanto lobbyists are calling for HT/Roundup-ready Bt Cotton to double farmers' incomes, science seems to speak against this step. Not only will the introduction of Roundup-tolerant crops mandate the increased use of Roundup but they will also be directly responsible for an exponential increase in farm debt and a rural cancer epidemic.
There are civil society groups who have been working in strong opposition to this step. In a press conference last year, Dr Vandana Shiva and Ashwani Mahajan, national co-convenor of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, came out to explain the harms of Roundup for Indians, calling for a ban on the pesticide in India.
“It is public knowledge now Mahyco Monsanto, the Indian subsidiary of Bayer/Monsanto, had huge stocks of HT Bt Cotton. In fact, a report of CICR-Nagpur confirmed the presence of these seeds being grown illegally in parts of India. Bayer/Monsanto is using contamination as a way to enter the Indian market illegally. We have written to the prime minister about this, clearly highlighting the damages caused by Roundup and even launched an India-wide campaign against the spread of Roundup,” Mahajan said. Whispers in India have been heard at the level of highest office that Monsanto’s time maybe up.
In 1984, the world saw the worst industrial genocide occur in Bhopal. A Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) (a pesticide) cloud engulfed Bhopal, causing the death of thousands, the continuance of birth defects and deformities in the millions till today. While Bhopal still bleeds, the perpetrators of Union Carbide Company (UCC), now Dow/Dupont, remain free of any liability. Wes Anderson died comfortably at his home in Cape Cod, while the maimed victims can only dream of death in Bhopal. With the might of money, UCC made a one-time settlement of $470 million for the 'reported' 6,00,000 victims. The amount was not enough even to provide basic medical relief to the victims and ignored victims who were still to be born with defects and abnormalities.
Will Roundup be the world’s Bhopal 2.0? What will happen to the claimants? To get these answers, I contacted Pedram Esfandiary, an attorney at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman’s, who represented Johnson in the case against Bayer/Monsanto.
Pedram was confident that this verdict will have a tremendous impact on all cases going forward. Speaking to Firstpost, he said, "Twelve impartial members of society reached the decision that Roundup is carcinogenic, based on the evidence presented to them. Much of this evidence will be the same in other pending cases. Monsanto now has to choose whether it will do right by the thousands of individuals who, like Mr Johnson, were deprived of making an informed choice."
At this stage, it seems appropriate to draw comparisons between Bayer/Monsanto’s conduct and those of other companies like Dow/Dupont that have led to the loss of human life or serious injuries by the millions. Pedram's next statement portrays the deep insensitivities cultivated by Monsanto, “The same reckless disregard for human safety in the pursuit of profit recurs in these tragic tales, until the perpetrator’s day of reckoning, which, for Monsanto, arrived with Mr Johnson’s verdict.”
Pedram, like most of the team of attorneys, is certain that Bayer will be liable for Monsanto’s poisons and calls the verdict “consequences of their egregious conduct”. Bayer and Monsanto’s denial cannot make them escape their liability, in his opinion.
And as for the scientists, journalists and PR agencies spreading misinformation about Roundup, he had a simple yet grim warning, “Monsanto has no first amendment right to manipulate science and mislead regulators in a bid to protect a cancerous product that has caused serious harm to thousands. The jury’s verdict took into account Monsanto’s covert efforts to influence the direction of science and collusion with regulators, and rightly returned a punitive damages award aimed as dissuading future repeated conduct.”
So why is this verdict so important? Because it proves to us that our world has become a concentration camp sans walls, and our foods the poisonous gas. With each bite, we are poisoning ourselves, while the same companies that profited from Hitler’s Germany continue to do so at the cost of spreading death and disease right up to the present. The argument here is not and shouldn’t be about “world hunger” or agri-tech, but about life.
Will India yield to propaganda or stand by science? Bayer/Monsanto is spreading death through their poisons, each day, while we are still debating and trying to intellectualise poisoning our world’s population in the guise of alleviating world hunger. Goliath is a terrible poison-making giant, but what can one terminally ill David do by slinging the rock of truth? Well, in this case, Johnson has changed the world.
The author tweets @IndraSsingh
Updated Date: Aug 18, 2018 08:42:58 IST