Warning of widespread impacts throughout the food supply chain, wheat growers are spearheading a lawsuit against California for listing glyphosate as a carcinogen under the state’s Proposition 65 law, which requires labeling of ingredients “known to the state to cause cancer.”
Monsanto is one of the plaintiffs along with the National Association of Wheat Growers and other groups, such as the Missouri Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Soybean Association (full list below), that filed the suit in federal court in California. Their complaint alleges constitutional violations under the First Amendment, the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Supremacy Clause.
At the center of the lawsuit is the International Agency for Research on Cancer, whose March 2015 conclusion that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic to humans" was the trigger for California’s Prop 65 listing. Under California law, the state is required to list as cancer-causing any substances classified by IARC as probable carcinogens.
The lawsuit claims that being forced to comply with the state listing “compels speech that is false and misleading,” because IARC only said glyphosate probably causes cancer, and its scientific conclusion is not supported by any other regulatory bodies or the scientific evidence.
IARC is “an outlier,” Blake Hurst, president of Missouri Farm Bureau, told Agri-Pulse. “The science is just not there.”
"The determination by IARC, a France-based, non-scientific organization, that glyphosate is ‘probably carcinogenic’ counters the conclusion of every global regulator that has examined the issue over the past 40 years," noted Iowa Soybean Association CEO Kirk Leeds. "Not only does the scientific community disagree with IARC’s findings, the organization’s internal process for reviewing glyphosate — along with other ‘possible’ or ‘probable carcinogens’ like French fries and coffee — has also been roundly criticized.
“This labeling requirement would do nothing more than compel false warnings about a safe product and unnecessarily increase food prices for consumers,” said Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy. Monsanto is also separately appealing a California court’s ruling that upholds the Prop 65 listing.
And Gordon Stoner, president of NAWG, said, “The unified voice of this diverse coalition of agriculture and business groups illustrates the devastating impact California’s flawed action would have across the country.”
Prior to IARC's ruling, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which administers Prop 65, had itself twice concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, the lawsuit says, adding “California conducted no independent analysis to verify IARC’s outlier contrary conclusion.”
The lawsuit also pointed to a study published last week by the National Cancer Institute, which examined more than 54,000 applicators in North Carolina and Iowa and found “no association was apparent between glyphosate and any solid tumors or lymphoid malignancies overall, including (non-Hodgkin lymphoma) and its subtypes. There was some evidence of increased risk of (acute myeloid leukemia) among the highest exposed group that requires confirmation.”
The plaintiffs in the action filed today are sounding the alarm about what they characterize as catastrophic effects for growers and handlers.
NAWG members “have already been told by millers that because millers do not want to test for glyphosate residues themselves, this requirement will be imposed on the farmers,” the suit says. “Testing for glyphosate residues is very expensive.”
Hurst said that when testing is brought up, that’s a “red flag” for farmers. The lawsuit, he said, will alert many growers to the looming threat of the Prop 65 listing.
There is the possibility that food products will not have to be labeled if they fall below a No Significant Residue Level, according to a state spokesman.
“We do not anticipate that food products would cause exposures that exceed the proposed NSRL,” Sam Delson, OEHHA's deputy director for external and legislative affairs, told Reuters. “However, we cannot say that with certainty at this point and businesses make the determination.”
The NSRL “provides only an ‘affirmative defense’ to liability under Proposition 65 (and) does not immunize industry from enforcement actions,” the lawsuit says, meaning that companies would still have to defend themselves against lawsuits. No NSRL is currently in place.
Says the lawsuit:
“With the threat of enforcement under Proposition 65, a number of grain handlers and finished food producers will require that farmers providing inputs for food products destined for California either not use glyphosate on their crops or certify that their crops do not contain glyphosate residues beyond particular levels, which will in turn require expensive testing, segregation of glyphosate-treated crops from non-glyphosate-treated crops, or a halt on using glyphosate at all—each an undesirable option and one that comes at considerable expense.
“You’re almost being asked to replicate the whole marketing chain,” Hurst said, warning that the cost to do that could run into the billions of dollars. As for not using glyphosate, “We are going to have to be dragged to that decision, screaming and hollering,” Hurst said.
Corn and soybeans are the top two crops sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup and other herbicide formulations that contain the chemical, but it is used on more than 250 crops nationwide.
The complaint seeks injunctive relief to prevent California from enforcing the Prop 65 listing. “We don’t want to get into a situation where’s there’s any confusion,” Hurst said. “It’s obviously very important to get a decision quickly.”
Other plaintiffs are the United States Durum Growers Association, Western Plant Health Association, South Dakota Agri-Business Association, North Dakota Grain Growers Association, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Associated Industries of Missouri, and the Agribusiness Association of Iowa.
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