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WATCH: EWG Asked People If They’d Like to Eat Cereal With Monsanto’s Weedkiller in It
On a recent afternoon, across the street from the White House, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) set up an impromptu taste test and asked participants to choose between two oat-based cereals: one that likely contained a pinch of Monsanto's weedkiller linked to cancer, glyphosate, and another that did not.
Given a choice between cereals that likely contained varying levels of glyphosate, and oat-based cereal grown organically without the toxic weedkiller, the steady stream of people who took the taste test all chose the one free of Monsanto's carcinogenic herbicide.
"The response by everyone who participated in the taste test confirms what EWG has been saying for years," said EWG President Ken Cook. "Nobody wants to eat toxic pesticides with their food."
"Unfortunately, it appears executives at big food companies like General Mills and Quaker don't agree, even though it would be an easy fix to produce these cereals without glyphosate," Cook said. "The companies continue to hide behind the federal government's excessively high limits for glyphosate in food, and have not responded to multiple requests from EWG to pursue solutions," Cook added.
Two separate rounds of laboratory tests commissioned last year by EWG found glyphosate — the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller — in nearly every sample of popular oat-based cereal and other oat-based food marketed to children.
The brands in which glyphosate was detected included several cereals and breakfast bars made by General Mills and Quaker.
How did this weedkiller find its way into popular breakfast cereals marketed to children? Increasingly, glyphosate is sprayed just before harvest on oats, and also on other grains, such as wheat and barley, to kill and dry out the crops so they can be picked earlier from the fields.
230,000 people have signed EWG's petition, urging Quaker and General Mills to source oats that have not been drenched with this toxic herbicide, but so far these companies have ignored the growing calls of concern.
"Consumers have spoken," added Cook. "But Quaker and General Mills clearly don't adhere to the credo that in America, the customer is always right. That's why EWG will expand our testing of these companies' products in 2019, and why we'll be taking our campaign and petition on the road to cities across the country this spring. We need to remind consumers that popular cereals commonly marketed to kids are contaminated with Monsanto's notorious, carcinogenic weedkiller."
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The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.