The first Australian litigation against US agri–chemical giant Monsanto for its Roundup product will test the courts’ ability to navigate science and emotion, and could damage the weed killer’s tender public image, agriculture industry figureheads say.
Melbourne gardener Michael Ogalirolo, 54, made history on Monday when he filed a writ in the Victorian Supreme Court, igniting a civil case against the Australian arm of US agriculture giant Monsanto, which produces the glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup.
In the writ, Mr Ogalirolo alleged Monsanto Australia failed to warn that its Roundup products were dangerous to human health, including that it could cause cancer.
He is claiming injury, loss and damage after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011 after 18 years of glyphosate exposure as a self-employed gardener.
News of the case broke on Tuesday, just days after the Victorian Government announced it would conduct a six-week review into its own, not public, use of glyphosate.
It is the first Australian State or Territory to review its use of the product, which is registered for use by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.
WAFarmers grain section president Duncan Young said he was hopeful but not confident Australia’s court system would rely on science, rather than emotion.
“We have a very good regulatory body in Australia that relies on science … it is not emotive,” he said.
“I have a lot of faith in science and the results are periodically reviewed, you don’t just get a label and that is it.”
In the past 10 months, Monsanto has lost four multimillion-dollar jury verdicts to litigants who blame its Roundup herbicide gave them cancer.
Just last month, a US jury handed an unprecedented $2 billion to a Californian couple who said their cancer was caused by long-term exposure to Roundup.
Monsanto, which plans to appeal in all four cases, is now facing thousands of other US lawsuits at both state and federal levels.
Australian chemical company Nufarm warned its investors this week it was at risk of litigation over its sales of glyphosate, even though it says the widely used herbicide is safe to use as directed.
Nufarm has purchased glyphosate in bulk from other wholesalers to create its own weedkiller for the past 18 years, after Monsanto’s patent to Roundup expired in 2000.
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said despite “disappointing” legal decisions in the US, she had every confidence that, when considering the impact of glyphosate on human health, Australian courts would see that science prevailed.