The passing of O.J. Simpson is a stark reminder that juries don’t always get it right. Like most of us of a certain age, I remember where I was the day the O.J. verdict was reached.

I also remember the day that the verdict was reached in the first Roundup trial. Millions of dollars were awarded to the plaintiff, who blamed Roundup herbicide for his cancer. The decision was in its way as shocking as the O.J verdict and just as divorced from reality. The case was a warning shot across the bows  for farmers, chemical manufacturers, and anybody who depends on technology developed later than the 14th century. 

Roundup, perhaps the most widely used herbicide in the world and one that I’ve used extensively, successfully, safely, and dare I say, thankfully in my farming career, is surely the most tested herbicide in the history of chemical warfare against weeds and insects.

I won’t bore you with listing the hundreds of studies that have found glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, safe or relitigate the bad science, bad faith, and conflicts of interest that have described the handful of studies that have reached the opposite conclusion. The safety of glyphosate is as well established as anything can be in science. 

That first trial led to an avalanche of lawsuits. Bayer, the manufacturer of Roundup, has paid over $11 billion  to 100,000 plaintiffs. Tens of thousands of lawsuits remain.

It is no surprise that Bayer is fighting back. Here in Missouri, a bill was introduced in the recent legislative session to make a small change in the way tort cases are brought. Similar bills were introduced in Iowa and Idaho. All three bills failed to pass.  A similar bill has been introduced in Congress, but Congress is no longer much interested in passing legislation.

The bills simply say that manufacturers and marketers don’t have to include a warning label, if the federal government has tested a product and found it safe. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in Roundup cases have argued that Bayer should have included a warning label informing consumers that Roundup might cause cancer.

This leaves Bayer in a pickle since federal laws prohibit changes to the label written by the EPA, which doesn’t include a cancer warning, because the EPA knows that Roundup doesn’t cause cancer.

To this non-lawyer, it seems that a warning label, especially one that has no basis in fact, might be advantageous to recruiting whatever few cancer victims haven’t already signed up to sue Bayer.

Missouri is well known for its friendliness to the trial bar, especially in St. Louis, where Bayer’s Missouri headquarters are located. In fact, according to a ranking compiled by the Tort Reform Association, St. Louis is among the 9 most favorable locations in the nation to bring suit against deep-pocketed defendants. This seems strange since the state of Missouri is solidly Republican, with a Republican supermajority in both the House and Senate.

Therein lies a story, one that has to be frightening for all of us who care about the future of the farming industry in the United States. 

Populism has much to offer to rural residents and farmers, and we’re quite comfortable with a political philosophy that seems to favor small companies and small places against their larger competitors.

We’re all about favoring simple folks over urban elites, and who amongst us hasn’t felt the sting of condescension that city dwellers often show for those of us without electric cars, fancy college degrees, or a corner office?  

But today’s version of populism is sometimes at odds with public policies that are important to farmers.

The first example that comes to mind is trade, where tariffs are almost uniformly popular, with both parties bidding to see who can start the biggest trade war, but the first reaction of almost every country that we target with tariffs is to place retaliatory tariffs against American farmers.

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Previous populists, especially the prairie populists who represented the agrarians of an earlier age, understood that tariffs hurt the little guy and low-income consumers while protecting large industries that can’t or won’t compete. 

The Texas agriculture commissioner just appeared in the pages of AgriPulse, arguing against federal legislation that would roll back the harm done to pork and poultry producers by California’s Prop 12.

A group of conservative Republicans in the House has threatened to oppose the farm bill, if the farm bill addresses Prop 12. Agriculture can’t survive with 50 different regulatory schemes, and if populism means that the new overlords of production agriculture are whichever fringe animal rights groups can buy enough signatures to successfully run ballot initiatives, farmers face a bleak future indeed.

Finally, the Roundup bill failed in Missouri because of opposition from the “Freedom Caucus” in the Missouri Senate, a group of Republican senators who’ve been large recipients of funding from the plaintiffs' attorneys. Seems that standing up for the little guy now means getting in bed with trial attorneys who have made hundreds of millions of dollars suing the maker of one of the most important tools in the Missouri farmer’s toolbox.

An earlier populist famously urged farmers to “Raise less corn and more hell!” Present-day populists can certainly raise hell, and if they get their way, I’m quite likely to raise less corn.  

Blake Hurst is a farmer and greenhouse grower in northwest Missouri.