Action Seeks to Block Sale of Weed Killer Roundup
August 26, 2020 | Environmental Litigation
Napoli Shkolnik and National Civil Rights and Personal Injury Attorney Ben Crump Joins with National Black Farmers Association to Seek to Block Sale of Weedkiller Roundup
- Crump, NAACP, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists call for Bayer-Monsanto to “end Black farmers’ bondage to their GMO seeds and cancer-causing herbicide”
- Co-counsel Chris Schnieders, said it’s time for the U.S. to join nations in Europe and Asia that have already banned the sale of Roundup, including Bayer’s home country of Germany. Claiming that Bayer-Monsanto has “robbed Black farmers of their freedom, choice, self-sufficiency, and health,” nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump today filed an action in federal court to enjoin the company from selling its weedkiller Roundup.
Calling Bayer-Monsanto’s plot to force farmers to rely on Roundup “one of the most cynical and destructive business plans in the history of our nation,” Crump and co-counsels Chris Schnieders and James Onder detailed how Black farmers were forced into buying Roundup-resistant seeds and relying on heavier and heavier concentrations of Roundup, which has been the subject of thousands of lawsuits from victims of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Because Black farmers have lower literacy rates and less access to the internet, they were less likely to understand the risks and Bayer-Monsanto made no proactive effort to educate or warn them, the attorneys said.
“Abraham Lincoln may have signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but Black American farmers are still not free,” Crump said. “They live in bondage to Bayer Corporation and its subsidiary Monsanto, the creator and marketer of the deadly weedkiller Roundup, enslaved by their Roundup-resistant seeds.”
Crump was joined at a news conference in front of Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, by St. Louis NAACP President John Bowman and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists President Jay Ozier.
“Black lives are threatened not only by police violence but by corporate greed that puts profits over people,” Bowman said. “Black farmers have been trapped into using this dangerous product – and they are paying for it with their economic freedom, their health, and in some cases their lives.”
Co-counsel Chris Schnieders, a partner with Napoli Shkolnik, said it’s time for the United States to join nations in Europe and Asia that have already banned the sale of Roundup, including Bayer’s home country of Germany, which has announced plans to phase out its use by 2023.
“If Roundup is banned, not only will farmers like me be safer, but it will open the door for the return of the conventional seed market,” said John Wesley Boyd Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers’ Association (NBFA), representing 109,000 Black farmers in 42 states. “That would mean economic freedom from the chains Bayer-Monsanto has placed on Black farmers, and really all small farmers.”
The NBFA previously filed suit unsuccessfully to block Monsanto from acquiring a host of local conventional seed companies and gain a stranglehold over the seed market.
Recently, Bayer-Monsanto announced a settlement with a handful of victims who used Roundup and ended up with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, which Schnieders called a “cynical settlement process” that leaves thousands of other victims with “pennies on the dollar” and future victims potentially without legal recourse at all.
Crump and Schnieders, representing more than 6,000 plaintiffs, including many people of color who are farmworkers and lawn care workers, said Bayer-Monsanto’s proposed settlement process exploits Black farmers all over again after the company forced them to use Roundup in the first place.
Boyd, a multi-generational farmer himself, said the settlement is especially harmful to the many Black farmers who have been forced to rely on Roundup in heavier and heavier concentrations and who may not be diagnosed with cancer for many years.
“Let’s face it, many Black farmers, struggling to scrape a living from the land, work too hard and too long to notice an enlarged lymph node or that they’re more tired than usual or that they’ve lost weight,” Boyd said. “This is another epically cynical business move on the part of Bayer-Monsanto to stick it to small farmers again after years of profitable exploitation.”
Crump is widely known for his representation of the families of Black Americans tragically killed by police, including the family of George Floyd. But he has also served as a champion for children poisoned by lead in the Flint, Mich. water supply, and African American and Hispanic women who suffered ovarian cancer from the use of talcum powder.
Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, announced in July that it intended to set aside about $9.6 billion to settle claims with current plaintiffs and another $1.25 billion for future claims. Under the proposal, Bayer would appoint a panel to evaluate future claims, but the judge overseeing the case found it unreasonable to bind future plaintiffs based on old scientific conclusions and to take decision-making away from a judge and jury.
Crump noted that Monsanto has made tens of billions of dollars from Roundup over the years.
Monsanto began selling Roundup, with the main active ingredient of glyphosate, in 1974. More than 20 years later, the company developed genetically modified crops that could withstand the weedkiller. Because the new crops are resistant to Roundup, the poison can be sprayed on fields to kill weeds. These “Roundup Ready” crops now include everything from corn to canola, alfalfa to cotton, and soy to sorghum.
Farmers call Roundup Ready seeds the “terminator seeds” because the seeds produced by the crops are sterile. And that means each year, farmers must buy the newest strain of seed from Monsanto.
“Bayer-Monsanto profits twice – first from selling farmers the seeds and then the Roundup – year after year,” Boyd said. “Bayer-Monsanto has pocketed billions from farmers and left us with no options, no freedom, no self-sufficiency, and, now, no health.”
Crump vowed to bring the forces of social justice to hold Bayer accountable.
“We are at a tipping point in our country, where Americans are demanding racial justice, whether in our policing and our criminal justice system or in the value placed on Black and Hispanic lives by corporations who profit while harming them,” Crump said. “This is a time when Americans are demanding justice and change.”
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