What’s the Future of Glyphosate?

The future of glyphosate is in doubt. Despite the decades of safe use and thousands of studies attesting to its safety, the most widely used herbicide is under assault around the world.

In the U.S., the attack on glyphosate is taking place in the legal system. Despite Environmental Protection Agency support, activists have successfully sued Bayer in civil litigation. Juries in one case awarded the plaintiff more than $2 billion, which was later reduced. Bayer faces more than 42,000 lawsuits around the world.

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The World Health Organization through its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has listed glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. On its face that seems a damning claim until you realize that red meat, wine, and beer are considered known carcinogens, which puts users at greater risk for contracting a cancer diagnosis.

It makes no sense. Well, it makes no sense until you think more deeply about the issue. Long ago an editor once advised “follow the money.” It’s not a new concept in journalism, and the phrase has been uttered countless times newsrooms around the world. If red meat, wine, and beer are more dangerous, why not sue those companies? There are a few reasons:

  1. Glyphosate is an easy target. Bayer (and formerly Monsanto) is the inventor of the product.
  2. When it comes to our food, we’re very emotional and don’t want it “tampered” with artificially.
  3. There’s a lot of money to be had if the lawsuits are successful.
  4. There’s more than one motivation here. Activists want to rid the world of genetically modified crops – like glyphosate-safe corn and soybeans.

So why not go after meat, beer, and wine producers. Well there isn’t an inventor. There are thousands of manufacturers of those products. Which ones are you going to sue? And while they might cause cancer, they aren’t being tampered with (at least not in the same way as crops treated with glyphosate).

What is the future of glyphosate?

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You might argue there are scores of manufacturers of glyphosate now that it’s generic. True. But Bayer (through Monsanto) invented the product and is a relatively easy target. And by the way, don’t think that other manufacturers will be immune from lawsuits down the road. If the litigation against Bayer continues to be successful, the generic companies might be next.

So, what does this mean for the future of glyphosate. First, it won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s too popular and too pervasive to disappear overnight. I wonder if that might undercut future litigation. “Hey, you knew this product might cause cancer, but you continued to use it.”

Second, it is being banned in places around the world. Countries in Europe seem to be jumping on the ban glyphosate bandwagon. That’s not likely to slow down anytime soon.

Three, and perhaps most importantly, consumer sentiment has shifted. Even if the science were to win out in the courts, the collective sentiment from consumers seems to be turning against the herbicide. In the U.S. (and perhaps elsewhere) there is a strong movement against vaccinating children against many diseases that had been nearly eradicated. That sentiment is based on a completely debunked unscientific study. But nonetheless the anti-vaccination movement grows and those nearly eradicated diseases are on the rebound. There’s no reason to think that the sentiment against glyphosate would be any different.