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VAN VOORHIS: Glyphosate Ruling Could Threaten the Global Agricultural Industry

An August 10 ruling by a U.S. court over the use of the popular herbicide glyphosate has the potential to throw the agricultural industry into a tailspin. In the first case of its kind, a former groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, was awarded damages of almost $290M for his cancer diagnosis, which surprised observers and even fellow judges, who had described the evidence linking glyphosate to cancer as “shaky.” While any chemical that is truly detrimental to human health should be dealt with accordingly, there is no evidence we have seen that links glyphosate to cancer.

On the contrary, the popular weed killer has helped to lower food prices, increase food production, and help developing countries export more food across the world. The economic effects of the shock verdict have been felt worldwide: Bayer, the German firm that recently purchased Monsanto for $63 billion, has seen its shares fall to their lowest level in five years, while other herbicide manufacturers’ shares have rapidly shed as much as 15% of their value.

The verdict isn’t only wiping billions of dollars of market value off of major international corporations, it has also unleashed a wave of hysteria that risks provoking both consumers and governments to make rash decisions.

Brazil’s Agriculture Minister has said that any potential ban on the herbicide would be an unequivocal “disaster” for the country: glyphosate is used on 95% of soy, corn and cotton harvested in the country, with no viable substitute. British farmers’ groups have warned that without the herbicide, they would be forced to return to a style of farming that is far more harmful to the environment, while the Australian National Farmers’ Federation blasted the Dewayne Johnson verdict as one “in blatant ignorance of science,” setting a “reckless precedent” which could gut the agricultural industry.

Fortunately, experts were equally quick to weigh in, explaining that the report drastically exaggerated any danger from eating a normal amount of breakfast cereal. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already assessed glyphosate, as it does with all potentially harmful chemicals. The EPA threshold is 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, a reference dose considered safe to consume daily over the course of a lifetime.

Dewayne Johnson’s successful lawsuit threatens to open the floodgates to a series of similar suits by anyone who can find even the most tenuous evidence to blame a big corporation for their illness.

We should hold accountable companies which cause illness as a result of their products, however it makes little sense to punish companies which work to improve health and human prosperity based on “shaky evidence.”

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