A CALIFORNIA jury has ordered crop protection giant Monsanto pay a groundskeeper dying of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma $US289 million ($A395 million) in damages, finding that Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup was liable for his cancer.
The ruling was made late last week in San Francisco, with 46-year-old Dewayne Johnson awarded the massive sum, made up of $US39 million ($A53 million) in compensation and $US250 million ($A342 million) in punitive damages.
Mr Johnson said he regularly used Roundup in his role.
Monsanto has already indicated it will appeal the finding, which may set a precedent for a series of similar cases across the United States.
It is believed there around 5000 lawsuits filed throughout the US against Monsanto due to links between Roundup and cancer.
Glyphosate’s status as a carcinogen has created controversy over the past couple of years.
It was adjudged by the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a ‘probable’ carcinogen, however supporters of the herbicide quickly pointed out this was a similar rating to household items such as coffee and red meat.
Regulators in charge of monitoring the safety of crop protection products in over 130 nations still class glyphosate as safe to use.
Australian herbicide specialist Chris Preston said the California case was not the correct vehicle to assess the safety or otherwise of glyphosate.
“It is the nature of court cases, especially ones with an appointed jury, they do not necessarily follow the science,” Dr Preston said.
“The people making these decisions don’t have a deep understanding of how science works and can be influenced by evidence other than the purely scientific findings and that can impact the ruling.”
For its part, Monsanto continues to defend its herbicide.
In a statement it said it was sympathetic to Mr Johnson and its family but said it would appeal the decision.
“Today’s decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr Johnson’s cancer,” the Monsanto statement read.
Dr Preston said glyphosate was one of the safest herbicides on the market, with a very low toxicity to humans around that of common table salt.
He said it was also low risk environmentally as it did not have a residual effect.
Locally, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) slammed the Californian decision.
NFF president Fiona Simson said the science on the safety of glyphosate was 'clear and overwhelming’.
"It is concerning that such a significant legal decision has been made in blatant ignorance of the findings of the world’s most authoritative sources on human health."