Monsanto can’t catch a break, not that it deserves one. The $50-billion mega-corporation, now owned by Bayer, has taken a beating this year, both in the courts and in the public eye.
On August 10, a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289.2 million to a former groundskeeper who successfully argued that the company’s flagship weedkiller, Roundup, caused his cancer. A few days later, Monsanto lost its bid to keep glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, off of California’s Proposition 65 list of carcinogens.
Now this: On September 6 (2018), a Manhattan judge threw out a subpoena filed by Monsanto against an activist group, going so far as to lecture Monsanto on the importance of free speech and democracy.
The 168-page subpoena, issued on behalf of Monsanto from a New York court, would have forced the global activist organization Avaaz to hand over decade’s worth of internal campaign communications, including personal information belonging to millions of activists who signed petitions against Monsanto’s genetically modified crops and Roundup weedkiller.
In an email to members sent immediately following the court victory, Avaaz campaign director Iain Keith said:
This subpoena was terrifying and would have had Avaaz spend months and hundreds of thousands of dollars digging up and handing over to Monsanto everything anyone on our team ever said or wrote about them for YEARS. Including even the email addresses and identities of our members who had sent messages to officials about Monsanto!
In a Facebook video Keith said:
“Monsanto was so angry about the millions of activists who fought to convince the European Union and other governments to step up and protect citizens from glyphosate that it took us to court and wanted us to hand over all of our strategies and partnerships.”
But the case didn’t go Monsanto’s way. Judge Shlomo S. Hagler of the Manhattan Supreme Court Justice “absolutely destroyed” Monsanto’s subpoena, Avaaz said.
Judge Hagler said “the subpoena would have a ‘tremendous chilling effect’” and that “no member would want to have their privacy and their activity known.”
We beat #Monsanto in court! The judge even said that Monsanto was trying to stop the lobbying efforts of our members. In his words, “This is America...you can speak your mind.”— Avaaz (@Avaaz) September 6, 2018
The ruling sparked celebrations around the globe, with users taking to social media to voice their support for Avaaz, as well as for the judge who delivered justice in their case.
BREAKING: Judge Hagler quash subpoena from Monsanto against Avaaz. Democracy won. Freedom of speech rules the day! #FirstAmendment— Oscar Soria (@OscarHSoria) September 6, 2018
I love when common sense, #truth, #justice, #wisdom, #freedom, and #integrity stand tall!— Jeanine DuBois (@jrd1776) September 7, 2018
Thank you @Avaaz for your courage to speak for freedom in court in response to #Monsanto subpoena. Huge gratitude to the judge who is beyond bullying, who sees simple Truth! https://t.co/FdvXFWacSZ
NY Supreme Court just quashed Monsanto's subpoena against @Avaaz. I hear the judge delivered a spanking to Monsanto's lawyers. This wouldn't have been possible without the thousands of Avaazers who donated towards the legal defence -- very grateful to them! pic.twitter.com/8HVK0PKSQ6— Fatima-Zahra Ibrahim (@fortuashla) September 6, 2018
Avaaz Deputy Director, Emma Ruby-Sachs, said in a press release:
“It’s unbelievable, but we beat back Monsanto and won in court! Not only are we safe from this legal attack, but the judge even told Monsanto that what they were doing was anti-democratic and an attempt to ‘chill’ the voices of our members, and the voices of citizens engaged in lobbying everywhere. Monsanto can appeal, but they’d be crazy to try to take on this amazing community of almost 50 million people again.”
The defeat is the latest in a string of obstacles Monsanto is facing over its flagship Roundup herbicide, the key ingredient of which has repeatedly been linked to cancer by world health officials, and most recently a San Francisco jury.
Last month a jury of 12 determined that exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup caused cancer in 46-year-old Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who, after being required to spray the herbicide, is terminally ill with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The jury said that Monsanto acted with “malice, oppression or fraud.”
Monsanto is expected to appeal the verdict, and could very well do the same in the Avaaz case. Still, the ruling incited a wave of unease among Bayer investors, pushing the stock price to its lowest in five years.
Monsanto’s—technically Bayer’s, now—headache doesn’t stop there. The agrochemical giant suffered another major blow when the California Supreme Court rejected its attempt to appeal a key provision of the state’s landmark chemical consumer-disclosure law, Proposition 65, which states that products containing cancer-causing substances must bear a warning label.
The result? Any and all products containing glyphosate in California will soon carry a cancer-warning label. The requirement is bad news for Monsanto and its infamous bad reputation.
Monsanto’s string of losses creates an opportunity for opponents of Roundup to ratchet up the pressure on Bayer-Monsanto. That’s why Organic Consumers Association, in collaboration with several other groups, will work together to get Roundup and other toxic, cancer-causing agro-chemicals out of America’s schools.
About 26 million pounds of Roundup are sprayed on public parks, school grounds, lawns and gardens every year—despite all the studies linking glyphosate to a host of chronic (and worse) diseases. Please sign this petition telling the National School Boards Association: No more Roundup weedkiller! Take your action a step further and share this post on Facebook and retweet this tweet on Twitter.
Julie Wilson is a communications associate for the Organic Consumers Association a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit grassroots consumer advocacy organization. To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.