A lawsuit filed this week by the National Black Farmers Association seeks to stop agribusiness giant Bayer from selling Roundup, its popular herbicide that has been linked to cancer in recent years.

The lawsuit, filed in St. Louis, alleges that Black farmers are forced by the agricultural system to spray Roundup and therefore are at risk of developing cancer. The lawsuit argues that Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, knowingly failed and continues to fail to adequately warn farmers about the dangers of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

Glyphosate is considered a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. As a result, dozens of countries worldwide have banned the use of the herbicide.

Bayer denies the claims that glyphosate causes cancer. However, U.S. juries have repeatedly ruled on behalf of plaintiffs who have alleged that spraying Roundup led to their cancer.

Earlier this year, Bayer announced a nearly $11 billion settlement of claims that Roundup causes cancer. On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that the settlement could be in jeopardy, as Bayer may be reneging on promises made in the settlement agreement.

Bayer spokeswoman Susan Luke pointed out in a statement to the Midwest Center that two of the law firms that are bringing the lawsuit are plaintiffs in the glyphosate suit that have chosen not to settle.

“Racism has no place in our society or at Bayer. This lawsuit is brought by two law firms that are holdouts in the Roundup product liability litigation and people should see this action for what it is – an attempt by plaintiffs’ lawyers to use media and more litigation to further their own financial interests. There is no basis in fact or law for the health claims in this suit, as Roundup has been assessed and approved by independent health regulators worldwide, including the EPA, which have found that Roundup can be used safely as directed,” Luke said.

Despite the settlement, the herbicide continues to be sold without any warning label, something the National Black Farmers Association said it hopes to address. If the herbicide is allowed to continue to be sold, it should have a warning label, the lawsuit said.

“But conspicuously absent from these damages actions and purported settlements is any effort to get Roundup® off the shelf and protect farmers from the harm that it causes,” the lawsuit read.

The National Black Farmers Association, which has more than 100,000 members, is represented by Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney who has represented the families of Black people killed or severely injured by police, such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake. 

The lawsuit argues that Black farmers disproportionately have limited access to internet and are less literate than the general population, and often rely on local seed salesmen for education on what seeds to buy and pesticides to spray. Because of the prevalence of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds, they are basically forced to use Roundup, the lawsuit says.

Only about 1.3% of U.S. farmers are Black, and Black farmers own .52% of U.S. farmland, according to the complaint. Overall, Black people make up about 13.4% of the U.S. population, the U.S. Census reports.

Luke also said: “Bayer worked to settle Roundup cases with hundreds of law firms representing approximately 125,000 claimants without regard to race or any other demographics, and was successful in ultimately resolving roughly 75% of all claims.  Any suggestion that claimants who are Black were treated differently in this process than others is completely false.”

She continued in the emailed statement: “We are sympathetic to anyone with cancer, but the fact is that the National Cancer Institute SEER database indicates that NHL incidence for Blacks is lower than that for White and Hispanic populations, and is largely unchanged over the past 17 years, despite the significant increase in glyphosate sales in the 90’s.”

Type of work:

Johnathan Hettinger focuses on pesticide coverage for Investigative Midwest. Growing up in central Illinois, Johnathan saw and had family members working in all aspects of agribusiness, from boots-in-the-field...

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