Dewayne Johnson v. Monsanto Company is the first Roundup cancer lawsuit to proceed to trial. Plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a 46-year-old former school groundskeeper, alleges exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and its active ingredient, glyphosate, caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
Johnson is one of thousands of plaintiffs to file suit against Monsanto in state court over the alleged link between Roundup and NHL. More than 450 other lawsuits filed in federal court are currently pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Since the start of the Johnson trial, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., co-counsel to Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, has provided running commentary of the events in court each day.
Actor and environmental activist Ed Begley, Jr. arrived early at the California Superior court in San Francisco this morning, hoping to get a coveted seat at the Monsanto trial. Today the court will hear the long-anticipated testimony of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the 46-year-old school building and grounds superintendent who is dying from a cancer he claims he contracted by spraying Monsanto’s popular herbicide Roundup on children’s school grounds.
I asked Ed why he had traveled all the way from Los Angeles for this trial. He told me:
“I’m here because this is an historic event. For the first time ever, Monsanto will have to explain its crimes before a jury. This company has done more to harm families, farmers and food than any company on earth. It’ll be a great message if the American justice system still has the vitality to stand up to corporate power and corruption. I want to tell my grandkids I was here!”
When I asked Ed how he felt about Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate being found in our entire food supply, he answered:
“By itself, that’s a momentous crime against humanity! It’s chemical trespass! Little children are eating this poison in their breakfast cereal. I know I never gave Monsanto permission to put a known carcinogen in my lunch. If Monsanto’s executives want toxins in their family dinner, they should add it themselves at home.”
Here are key highlights from the Monsanto trial based off of Robert F. Kennedy's daily entries:
Day 1, July 9: opening statements
Here’s a link to the opening statement for the Plaintiff by Brent Wisner of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman:
“This case really is about choice. It's about the right of every single person in this room to make a choice about what chemicals they expose themselves, their family or their children to…If you don’t warn, you don’t give someone the choice, and if someone gets hurt from that, or, God forbid, someone gets cancer, then I believe someone should be held responsible for that.”
Day 2, July 10: Did Monsanto suppress its own research?
On day 2 of the Johnson trial, the jury heard deposition testimony from Monsanto toxicologist, Dr. Mark Martens. Johnson’s attorneys asked Martens why Monsanto decided to abandon research conducted in 1999, by Dr. James Parry, an independent toxicologist Monsanto hired as a consultant after deeming him a top expert in his field.
Dr. Parry’s research concluded that glyphosate and the Roundup formulation may cause genetic mutations, a potential precursor to cancer. According to Martens, Monsanto did not allow independent scientists to review Dr. Parry’s research for further study after it was received, nor did the company give Dr. Parry’s research to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Day 3, July 12: Dr. Christopher Portier discusses the tumors in glyphosate animal studies, and the EPA’s initial findings in 1985, that glyphosate is a “possible” human carcinogen
On day 3, Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos denied attorney Brent Wisner’s request that epidemiology/toxicology expert, Dr. Christopher Portier, be permitted to share his opinions before the jury concerning the amount of glyphosate exposure the state of California has determined causes cancer.
Wisner argued that a previous ruling allowed Monsanto witnesses to testify about foreign regulatory decisions to not list glyphosate as carcinogenic, so it did not make sense to deny the plaintiff the opportunity to discuss California’s own regulatory decision to list glyphosate as a chemical known to the state to cause cancer.
Nevertheless, Dr. Portier testified that his analysis of 13 rodent studies on glyphosate, and the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) led him to conclude that exposure to glyphosate causes NHL. Portier said:
“If you have multiple tumors of the same type in multiple species, it adds to the strength of causality. By seeing lots of different tumor types hit in the same animal, the more important it is to the human causal.”
Day 4, July 13: Dr. Christopher Portier discusses flaws with U.S. and EU regulatory Evaluations for glyphosate
On day 4, Monsanto counsel, Kirby Griffis, tried to rattle Dr. Christopher Portier during cross-examination, confronting the expert witness with the EPA’s conclusion that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. During testimony, Dr. Portier slammed U.S. and European regulators over their methodology in evaluating glyphosate.
For example, Dr. Portier testified that European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) missed 15 tumors in a series of rodent studies on glyphosate because the agency used the wrong methodology. During cross-examination, he said:
“My entire career been about using scientific evidence to make decisions, primarily about the carcinogenicity of compounds, and we’ve worked for years and years to do that appropriately. This was just so amazingly wrong in the way they were doing it.”
Day 5, July 16: Fireworks during cross-examination as Monsanto lawyer attempts to discredit expert witness
On day 5, as cross-examination continued Monday, Monsanto counsel Kirby Griffis accused cancer expert, Dr. Christopher Portier, of basing his opinion that glyphosate and Roundup cause cancer on lucrative consulting contracts from law firms and not on scientific evidence.
“You said EPA was ‘so amazingly wrong;’ EFSA was ‘so amazingly, astonishingly wrong.’ ECHA (European Chemicals Agency) got one thing right,” Griffis said, attempting to poke holes in Dr. Portier’s prior testimony about U.S. and European regulators’ evaluations of glyphosate.
Undaunted, Dr. Portier responded: “It’s absolutely clear they’re not using [their guidelines] appropriately.”
During redirect, Dr. Portier also pointed out that a reassessment report for glyphosate conducted by a German agency that participated in EFSA’s review of glyphosate, contained verbatim passages written by herbicide manufacturers.
Day 6, July 17: Plaintiff Dewayne Johnson called Monsanto to ask if using Roundup caused his skin rashes, later diagnosed as non-Hodgkin lymphoma
On day 6, Monsanto executive Dr. Daniel Goldstein attempted to rebut plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson’s allegation that he failed to tell him whether exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer caused him to develop skin rashes over a significant portion of his body.
In his lawsuit, Johnson alleges he developed cancerous lesions on his body after using Roundup between 2012 and 2015, as part of his groundskeeper job, including two instances where he was drenched in the weed killer.
The jury saw video testimony from Dr. Goldstein, who was asked whether he returned calls that Johnson had made to the company in 2014, asking if exposure to Roundup created the widespread lesions all over his body.
Dr. Goldstein testified that he did not recall speaking to Johnson, though an internal Monsanto email shows that he intended to call Johnson.
“It would certainly be helpful to have spoken with him, and I don’t recall whether I did,” Goldstein testified.
Day 7, July 18: Tempers flare as Monsanto lawyer becomes visibly frustrated with cancer expert, Dr. Alfred Neugut
On day 7, oncology and epidemiology expert Dr. Alfred Neugut of Columbia University took the stand and things got a bit heated during his cross-examination. At one point, Monsanto attorney George Lombardi gave the court an inaccurate characterization of a statement Dr. Neugut had made. Dr. Neugut yelled back to Lombardi to stop “misquoting” him.
Another highlight was Dr. Neugut’s dismissal of the Agricultural Health Study, which Monsanto routinely points to as conclusive proof that glyphosate is safe. Like other expert witnesses for the plaintiff, Dr. Neugut told the jury about several key flaws with the study, including the imputation of data to make up for poor follow-up among the study’s subjects, which rendered the study a “throwaway.” Dr. Neugut said:
“You use imputation when you’ve got a screwed-up study with poor follow-up. Unfortunately, this is a case of measurings—with a gold scale, where it turns out the results just don’t turn out to be what they should be because there are so many problems.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a longtime environmental advocate and author of American Values: Lessons I Learned From My Family. He is co-counsel to Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, representing nearly 800 people across the nation who allege Roundup exposure caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertKennedyJr. Like him on Facebook.
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