Roundup still in SA despite cancer fears
Pharmaceuticals company Bayer says its subsidiary Monsanto will continue to sell its Roundup weed killer in SA despite a US jury last month awarding nearly $80m (R1.1bn) to a man who claimed it had given him cancer.
According to court documents, Edwin Hardeman, 70, used Roundup for 30 years. Though no direct link between Hardeman's cancer and Roundup has been confirmed, the jury voted in his favour on the basis that there were insufficient warnings about the risk of using the product. Last year, a jury awarded Dewayne Johnson, who has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, $78m in damages for his exposure to Roundup.
Magda du Toit, corporate engagement manager for Bayer SA, said: "We are disappointed with the jury's decision, but this verdict does not change the weight of over four decades of extensive science and the conclusions of regulators worldwide that support the safety of our glyphosate-based herbicides and that they are not carcinogenic.
"The verdict . has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances. Bayer will appeal this verdict. Bayer stands behind our products and will vigorously defend them."
Monsanto has been selling Roundup products - which contain glyphosate, the active ingredient said to cause cancer - for more than 40 years. It is unclear whether Monsanto plans to remove the products from South African shelves.
Du Toit said Roundup herbicides were typically used in row crops before planting and in crops grown from genetically engineered seeds, such as cotton, maize and soya, to control weeds. It was also used in wheat fields, orchards, vineyards and to clear fields for fire control.
She said global regulatory authorities considered glyphosate-based herbicides safe when used as directed.
She cited 800 studies, including a 2018 National Cancer Institute study that found there was no link between glyphosate-based herbicides and cancer, as evidence of the products' safety.
However, 2015 research by the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer found that glyphosate was a probable carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance.
The department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries said although it was aware of the developments in the Roundup case in the US it was not looking to have the products removed from SA shelves unless it received compelling information.
Rico Euripidou, the environmental health campaign manager at GroundWork, a non-profit environmental justice organisation, said: "Corporations, like big tobacco and the oil industry, have fostered the myth that their products are essential to life as we know it - and harmless if 'used as directed'. This again is the case with Roundup and the multinational Monsanto," said Euripidou.
He said most farm workers in SA were not properly informed about Roundup's hazardous properties, sometimes couldn't read or understand the labels and did not have equipment to protect them from exposure.
"Most farm workers I have observed (especially in the forestry sector) who apply Roundup do so with leaking knapsacks on their naked backs, or soaked-through T-shirts during the many calendar days when they are applying the weedkiller.
"If they get sick they are taken to a rural clinic which is not equipped to understand nor manage or measure their exposure and treatment, and instead if they are too sick to work they will in all likelihood be sent home to deal with their health impacts themselves," Euripidou said.
Gerhard Verdoorn, stewardship and operations manager of CropLife SA, an international trade association of agrochemical companies, said reviews by the European Food Safety Association and the US Environmental Protection Agency "are conclusive that glyphosate does not cause cancer in humans. We regard glyphosate as safe for use if label instructions are adhered to."
He said farm workers should wear protective clothing such as long trousers, long-sleeved overalls, rubber gloves, rubber boots and facial cover when required.
Katishi Masemola, general secretary of the Food and Allied Workers Union, said some farmers ensure their staff work in safe environments but generally farmers do not take the health and safety of their workers seriously. It is also difficult to represent farm workers as they work in far-flung areas.