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More farmers claim that Monsanto's leading weed killer product caused them cancer

Monsanto's widely used weed killer Roundup on a shelf in Home Depot.
File photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
Monsanto's widely-used weed killer Roundup contains glyphosate, a chemical that's been the subject of multiple lawsuits that allege that it's linked to cancer.

Monsanto is facing more pressure to compensate farmers and farm workers who allege that its leading pesticide product caused them to develop cancer. 

A Los Angeles-based law firm on Friday filed 136 new cases against the company in St. Louis County Circuit Court. The lawsuits allege that exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"We're bringing the lawsuit to address the injuries that have been caused by Roundup and glyphosate to mainly farmers and farm workers, but we also think that consumers and home gardeners have also been affected," said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a co-counsel in the lawsuit. 

There have been conflicting reports about glyphosate's link to cancer. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a panel of medical experts associated with the World Health Organization, concluded that the chemical is a "probable carcinogen" to humans. However, the Environmental Protection Agency and more recently, the European Chemicals Agency, declared that glyphosate isn't likely to cause cancer. 

Last week, a federal judge in California released internal emails from Monsanto that indicated  some research on the safety of glyphosate had been written by company employees. A company executive suggested in an email that Monsanto could pay academics to put their names on papers to lower costs and referred to an earlier time when that was done.

Kennedy said those tactics created dubious research that regulators relied on.

"These studies were not done by scientists at all but were ghostwritten in order to fool the public and also the regulatory agency," Kennedy said.

Monsanto officials have repeatedly said that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer, and that they believe that the International Agency for Research on Cancer "incorrectly classified" the chemical.

"We empathize with anyone facing cancer," Monsanto spokesperson Charla Lord wrote in an email. "We can also confidently say that glyphosate is not the cause. No regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate a carcinogen." 

More than 700 legal complaints have been filed against Monsanto over the health risks of using Roundup. Kennedy said he expects that to increase to 3,000 cases in the coming months.

Follow Eli Chen on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.