Lawyers, Pests, And Money: The Battle Over Weed Killer

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Posted: May 15, 2019 10:50 AM
Lawyers, Pests, And Money: The Battle Over Weed Killer

Source: AP Photo/Reed Saxon

If you spend any time at all watching the perpetual rerun channels that in the age of digital television have become ubiquitous, you’re bound to run across ads for law firms seeking potential plaintiffs from amongst anyone whom might have been injured or killed by this product or that.

Typically, these ads focus on pharmaceuticals or medical devices. Of late though, there’s a new one featuring a scion of one of America’s most prominent political dynasties who, while trading on his famous name, is asking folks to come forward if they think they’ve acquired a particular form of cancer after using a popular brand of weed killer.

It’s sad – and not just because the son of a martyred presidential candidate has apparently sunk so low as to chase ambulances via low-cost television but because his pitch, like so many other of its kind, holds out the idea that great riches await those who are suffering if the case can be proven in court, affirmed by a jury, and upheld on appeal.

Although there have already been three cases in which the manufacturer of the product was found liable and a large jury award was made, the problem coming out of the gate is that the U.S. government has said and still says the product is safe when used properly.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the active ingredient, a weed killer called glyphosate, is probably not a cancer-causing chemical. The EPA started studying its risks to humans just a few years back but was able to conclude quickly it was safe. Moreover, its toxicity has been reviewed in 6 major studies undertaken since 2015 – with five of them concluding it the benefits it provided outweighed the risks associated with its use. Only one study found the chemical to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” which, of course, the trial lawyers have seized upon as the magnum opus and final word on the subject.

It’s not, of course. The study is tainted but so far has not been a roadblock to ambulance chasers seeking big paydays. Its conclusions, which are not supported by peer review, are further undermined by the revelation the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer edited out comments and conclusions reached by participating scientists who found no link between the chemical and cancer. In fact, as others have written, the conclusion reached by the EPA is “consistent” with what agencies in Canada, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, and Japan, and the European Food Safety Authority and European Chemicals Agency have found.

Since glyphosate was introduced, all the regulatory assessments conducted established it poses low hazard potentials to mammals and did not produce sufficient evidence it should be considered carcinogenic.

Writing for Slate magazine, Dr. Guy-André Pelouze -- a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon who did cancer research during his training and lung cancer treatment during his practice -- looked at the IARC study and observed that, “Glyphosate’s benefit-risk ratio is one of the highest of all weed killers derived from organic chemistry. It is less toxic than common chemicals like aspirin,” while calling the media’s treatment of the issue “irrational and even hysterical.”

Irrational and hysterical it may have been, but it also plays right into the hands of rapacious trial attorneys seeking to line their own pockets at the expense of the sick, injured, and dying. Activists stirring the pot on their behalf have made linking this pesticide to human illness a mission.

So far, out of the more than 11,200 lawsuits filed alleging that this pesticide causes humans harm, only 3 have gone to trial. In the first 2, the allegation that the chemical was the cause of the plaintiff’s illness was affirmed along with jury-awarded damages of $79 million in the first case and $80 million in the second. And in the third case, a California jury whom the judge prohibited from hearing that the EPA said glyphosate was non-carcinogenic, awarded plaintiffs an eye-popping $2.055 billion in damages.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to go. Hopefully, these verdicts and judgments will be reversed on appeal. Pesticides that are scientifically proven to be safe effectively assist in high-yield farming and are necessary to feed the world. Letting emotion triumph over logic and sound science is detrimental to the future. Multiple respected organizations have approved glyphosate and pesticides as safe, effective farming tools. Saying otherwise is pure junk science.

Peter Roff is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom and a former U.S. News and World Report contributing editor who appears regularly as a commentator on the One America News network.

He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.