by Katherine Paul, Community
Dewayne Johnson never wanted to be a celebrity acting out his life on an international stage. He’d much rather be a healthy man, going to work, taking care of his family, making a modest-but-steady living.
In a recent interview with Time magazine, the former school groundskeeper said:
“I’ve never really been a fan of attention or fanfare. And now it seems like that’s taken over my life. I get requests for media interviews from all over the world, and people ask me to come to their events and speak, and I’ve had people telling me they want to buy my ‘life rights’ to try to get movie deals . . . It’s crazy.”
Crazy, maybe. But Johnson, who recently won a $289-million judgment (later reduced to $78 million) against Monsanto (now Bayer) for manufacturing a product he says (and the jury agreed) caused his terminal cancer—and for hiding evidence of that product’s lethal toxicity—has perhaps done more than any one single person to shine a spotlight on how bad Roundup weedkiller is. And how deceitful Monsanto has been.
There are more than 8,000 claims pending against Monsanto in state courts, about 620 awaiting trial in federal court, as more victims come forward to tell their stories of how they believed Monsanto’s public claims of safety, only to become deathly ill from exposure to Roundup.
Next up is the case of Edward Hardeman, whose trial is set to begin on February, 25, 2019, in a San Francisco federal court. Reuters reports that Hardeman’s case was selected as “a so-called bellwether, or test trial, frequently used in U.S. product liability mass litigation to help both sides gauge the range of damages and define settlement options.”
Bayer CEO Werner Baumann says the lawsuits are just “nuisances.” Maybe. But the Germany-based chemical giant’s shareholders aren’t happy about them. Feeling the pressure, Baumann recently announced the company will sell a number of businesses and cut 12,000 jobs, after Bayer’s stock dropped 35 percent.
Two different cases, two different messages
In some way, Hardeman’s case may resonate more with the average person who may have at one time bought Roundup, for home use. According to Reuters:
Hardeman began using the Roundup brand herbicide with glyphosate in the 1980s to control poison oak and weeds on his property and sprayed “large volumes” of the chemical for many years on a regular basis, according to court documents. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system, in February 2015 and filed his lawsuit a year later.
Hardeman could be you, or your neighbor or family member, who heads over to Costco or Walmart or your local hardware store several times every summer, to buy bottles of Roundup to to kill weeds on your own property.
We haven’t been able to nail down what portion of the more than $4 billion in Roundup sales are direct sales to consumers. But it’s significant enough that U.S. retailers are “sticking by” the product, despite the public’s growing awareness of its potential harm.
Organic Consumers Association and Beyond Pesticides jointly filed a lawsuit against Monsanto for intentionally misleading the public by labeling its popular weedkiller Roundup as “target[ing] an enzyme found in plants but not in people or pets.”
In fact, according to scientists, although humans and other mammals themselves do not have a shikimate pathway, the shikimate pathway is present in bacteria, including beneficial bacteria that inhabit the mammalian gut and are essential to overall health. EPSP is therefore “found in . . . people [and] pets.” Just like it inhibits EPSP synthase in weeds, the active ingredient in Roundup inhibits EPSP synthase in these human and pet gut bacteria, and just like it targets weeds, the active ingredient in Roundup targets the human and pet gut bacteria the enzyme targeted by Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is found in the gut bacteria of people and pets.
Johnson case draws attention to use of Roundup where kids play
Johnson’s case is different. He used commercially sold Roundup on a regular basis, on the multiple school properties he managed. He wasn’t your average homeowner, buying Roundup at Walmart, to keep his yard tidy.
But his case shouldn’t resonate any less with the public—especially parents of schoolchildren. He told the Time interviewer he “had to be at work by sun up to make sure we had time to spray before the kids got to school.” He also insisted that his staff wear protective gear.
Kids don’t wear protective gear to school. Nor should they have to, most parents would agree.
Now that Johnson knows how toxic Roundup is, and how hard Monsanto works to keep that information from the public, he said he’s on a mission. Despite how overwhelmed he is with his new “celebrity” status, not to mention his terminal illness, Johnson said he wants “to see all these schools stop using glyphosate, first California, then the rest of the country.”
We couldn’t agree more. That’s why we’re working with other organizations and parent activists to get Roundup out of schools. If you’d like to help, sign our petition to the National School Boards Association. And take this flyer to your school board members, and your next PTA meeting.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit grassroots consumer advocacy organization. To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.