Edwin Hardeman suffers from non-Hodgkin lymphoma and his prognosis according to the five-year relative survival rate is 71%. Given that he was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 reaching 2020 he is going to worry more about the next stages of his condition as it may cause further implications or even spread to other organs. In 2015 in the U.S. about 4.3 million people developed this type of cancer and 231.400 died as a result of it.
Statistically, Edwin Hardeman could be any of the 10 million people in the U.S. that could be diagnosed with this type of cancer sometime in their life. What makes his case worth mentioning in the news is the cause of his cancer. According to a San Francisco federal jury verdict, Monsanto was held accountable for Edwin’s cancer as Roundup was determined as ‘substantial factor’ to Edwin’s cancer. This is the second case brought in the court where Roundup was found guilty. Last August the jury awarded Dewayne Johnson $ 289 million, which was slashed to 78$ million on October 22 as the company failed to provide adequate warning over the health risks to regular users of Roundup. Dewayne was diagnosed with terminal cancer because of the exposure to the product that he used as part of his job. In Edwin’s case, Monsanto was also ordered to pay the plaintiff $ 80 million compensatory and punitive damages. Both outcomes could have an impact on the course of future litigations as they set important legal precedents that will be exploited in future lawsuits.
In a statement on the Bayer website, which acquired Monsanto last year, the Pharma giant expressed its ‘disappointment’ at the decision as it still believes that Roundup is not carcinogenic, and claimed the outcome of the case would have ‘no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances.’ It also reported that it would appeal the verdict.
Four years ago, in 2015, The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) deemed Roundup as a probable carcinogen. One year later, Monsanto presented an independent review, published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, challenging the IARC conclusions. (The Environmental Protection Agency claims that glyphosate-based herbicides are safe when used according to label directions.)
The whole case will be open to scrutiny and long debates for quite much time because of the gravity of the situation. If Roundup is proved carcinogenic, the problem of the agricultural sector is that there is not a visible safe alternative, with the properties of glyphosate, the main ingredient of Roundup, that would be equally successful at weed killing.
It sounds scary and it actually is. The human domestication of edible plants thousands of years ago has made them more vulnerable to their wild relatives. This means that chemical protection is vital, otherwise, we will have to face the high risk of reduced crops and further food shortage. Instead, farmers could use organic agriculture techniques, which would translate to several man-hours and higher market price, unless robotic systems are able soon to lower the cost.
It seems that we have reached a dead-end as we are fully dependent on glyphosate and other equally dangerous similar substances used globally in farming to increase agricultural productivity. An alternative solution to the problem is precision agriculture which provides a fertile ground to promote sustainable agriculture. A key component of this new approach is the use of methodologies and technologies with the main aim to restrict the use of harmful chemicals and address the farming problems more accurately and more efficiently, the same way smart bombs replaced napalms.
Hundreds of startups funded by governments and venture capitals offer solutions that leverage sensors (IoT), satellite images and AI algorithms to collect and analyze datasets and apply precision agriculture. However we need to accept the fact that even solutions like precision farming do not exclude the high risk of chemicals, but they restrict it. As a result, it is possible that in the future we may witness more life threat cases similar to Roundup.