Wednesday, September 2, 2020

National Black Farmers Association asks for a court injunction ending Roundup sales

 Two weeks after spraying with Roundup. Courtesy UC
Roundup may be the most widely used and thus financially successful herbicide in history. But brand owner Bayer is already facing a reckoning after agreeing to pay $10.9 billion to settle claims that the weedkiller causes cancer.

The National Black Farmers Association wants more than just money: it wants Roundup rounded up and taken out of the pasture, for good.

I'm a little surprised the NBFA's lawsuit, filed last week in Missouri federal district court against Bayer subsidiary Monsanto, hasn't attracted more attention. If successful, it could have an enormous impact on farming nationwide, with worldwide repercussions. And given the successes that lawsuits alleging that Roundup causes cancer have had in court, it would be short-sighted to say the NBFA doesn't have a chance of winning.

Bayer's corporate statement characterized the NBFA as a lawsuit by two legal firms that refused to join the $10.9 billion settlement. According to one of NBFA's attorneys, more than 25,000 cancer victims have not settled with Bayer.

Bayer bought Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018, thus acquiring Roundup and its financial successes and legal liabilities. You have to wonder at what point Bayer will decide the latter outweigh the former, especially as countries all over the world are taking various steps to ban Roundup.

What the NBFA is arguing is that black farmers were uniquely vulnerable to Monsanto.


From the lawsuit:

"The harms caused by Roundup® are felt acutely by NBFA’s members: largely rural Black farmers who frequently have limited internet connectivity and/or literacy, and are dependent on their local seed stores for product and information. Utterly unaware of the danger, these farmers have been all-but forced into purchasing Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® seeds and thus Roundup® products containing glyphosate by Monsanto’s aggressive business practices. Over the course of the last several decades, Monsanto has purchased local, conventional seed sellers and then removed their products from the market, making its own “Roundup Ready®” seeds the only option available to rural Black farmers. And to justify the huge, annual financial investment required to buy Roundup Ready® seeds, these farmers were forced in turn into purchasing and using Roundup® herbicides containing glyphosate."

I don't want to get too deep into the weeds about the utility of Roundup, or whether other herbicides would be better or worse. I've seen the argument that consumers will suffer if it is taken off the market and unfortunately, though I personally buy organic products whenever I can, eliminating Roundup is not going to force big commercial farmers to go organic. They'll use a different herbicide.

What resonates for me in NBFA's complaint -- and what might resonate with a jury, if it ever gets that far -- are Monsanto's nefarious seed-marketing practices. What the paragraph from the lawsuit describes has been well-documented: Monsanto made only its seeds available whenever possible, and forced farmers into using them. Monsanto has sued hundreds of small farmers when its patented versions of crops have been found on their farms, if, for example, they used seeds from last year's crop to plant this year's -- as farmers have done for millenia -- instead of buying a new batch of seeds from Monsanto.

As has been detailed in numerous documentaries -- Food Inc. is a good start -- Monsanto's Roundup-ready seeds lead to a vicious cycle: superweeds develop Roundup resistance, so farmers have to use even more dangerous herbicides to fight them.

NBFA's complaint says Monsanto did not provide training in the use of its herbicides. From the lawsuit:

"Having bred super-weeds by using Monsanto’s products and lost access to affordable conventional seed—and uniquely deprived of the resources to adopt alternative practices by decades of outright and structural racism in the administration of farm programs—NBFA’s members only end up exposing themselves to more and more carcinogens like glyphosate, and that leads, in turn, to lethal cancers that only begin to cause symptoms decades after exposure. The only way to break this cycle is to force Monsanto to stop selling its carcinogenic product. And that requires the injunctive relief that NBFA has brought this action to pursue."

Ben Crump, one of NBFA's attorneys, is also representing the family of George Floyd, who was killed by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin earlier this year. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder.

Federal cases move slowly, but if you are a farmer dependent on Roundup, it would behoove you to start looking around for alternatives.

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1 comment:

Rex said...

Thank you for your reporting.