By Huanjia Zhang
(This story was originally published in Environmental Health News and is republished here with permission.)
Monsanto Co. and its corporate parent Bayer are facing a federal lawsuit for civil rights violations after they allegedly excluded a farmworker from a Roundup cancer settlement because of her immigration status.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia, plaintiff Elvira Reyes-Hernandez is a migrant farmworker who worked on Virginia tree farms between 2015 and 2018, during which she sprayed the herbicide Roundup regularly.
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Over the years, a wide body of scientific evidence has also pointed to glyphosate exposure as causing an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Reyes-Hernandez was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2019 and subsequently sued Monsanto, claiming that Roundup exposure had a role in causing her cancer.
“Monsanto is very likely making calculated risks based on the characteristics of the people who are using their products,” said Katy Youker, an attorney for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and a co-counsel for the case.
By excluding non-US citizens from the settlement program, she said, Monsanto is effectively putting up a huge barrier for migrant farmworkers — most of whom do not have citizenship but are at the forefront of Roundup exposure — from seeking restitution.
This case could send an encouraging message to migrant and undocumented farmworkers who wish to bring legal action against the company. However, legal experts and farmworker advocates are still pessimistic about the prospect of them coming forward, especially when facing a myriad of hurdles and obstacles.