Roundup herbicide is at the center of a class-action lawsuit now underway in the Federal Court of Australia. The landmark case involves more than 800 people who say the weed killer is to blame for their non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

The trial is expected to last nine weeks, with expert witnesses planning to detail the hazards of Roundup made with glyphosate. The product was originally manufactured by Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018. 

Most of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were exposed to Roundup while working in the agricultural sector, but some only used the product residentially. The case’s lead plaintiff, Kelvin McNickle, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in May 2018. He used Roundup for more than two decades while working for his family’s vegetation management business. McNickle went into remission in 2019 but his disease recurred in 2023.

“Monsanto and parent company Bayer have behaved like many multi-nationals confronted with this situation,” lawyer Andrew Watson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Watson is heading up the class-action lawsuit. “They’ve done everything they can to disparage … the science which shows that their product is a dangerous product to human health and they’ve done everything they can to put profit before people.” 

Bayer insists Roundup is safe, saying in a recent statement that studies have proven “glyphosate is safe when used as directed and is not carcinogenic.”

Glyphosate’s Connection to Cancer

Research has shown that prolonged exposure to glyphosate and high levels of the herbicide are linked to an increase in certain cancers. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer defines glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that glyphosate isn’t likely to pose a risk to humans if used as the guidelines on the label recommend. 

Lawyer Andrew Clements KC, who represents the plaintiffs, spoke with The Guardian about glyphosate and its connection to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

“Mr. McNickle contends that the body of epidemiological literature provides generally supportive evidence that exposure to glyphosate and/or GBFs [glyphosate-based formulations] increases an individual’s risk of developing NHL and, therefore, that glyphosate and/or GBFs are carcinogenic to humans,” he told the news outlet.

During the defense’s opening statements, Steven Finch SC said the majority of the defendant’s response during the trial would focus on the reliability of scientific studies into glyphosate. He warned the court not to “fall into the trap” that finding something capable of causing cancer meant “it might cause cancer,” saying that particular finding also meant that it might not cause cancer. 

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Other Lawsuits and Settlements

Thousands of lawsuits have been filed claiming that Roundup causes cancer in the U.S. As of September 2023, there were more than 4,000 cancer Roundup lawsuits pending in California federal court. Multimillion-dollar verdicts have also been awarded to Americans claiming Roundup causes cancer, including a $2 billion payout in May 2019.

Bayer has offered $10.9 billion to settle the majority of the cancer lawsuits. Since being on the market for so long, lawsuits are still being filed and future Roundup settlements are possible.

There are many safer alternatives to Roundup that can be used to control weeds and pests. More natural substitutes for Roundup include acid- and iron-based herbicides, soaps, essential oils, vinegar and corn gluten. Integrated weed management is another option, which incorporates more than just one product or method.