As cancer rates rise, Iowa could make it illegal to sue pesticide manufacturers

In this Feb. 24, 2019, file photo, containers of Roundup are displayed on a store shelf in San Francisco. The Bayer Corporation has spent more than $10 billion to settle lawsuits that claim the popular weed killer Roundup causes cancer. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

By Ty Rushing

March 25, 2024

As cancer rates rise in Iowa, the Iowa Senate is considering a bill that would prevent people from suing manufacturers of pesticides—a product linked to increased cancer risk—for not providing adequate warning labels on products. 

SF 2412 would prevent Iowans from being able to sue pesticide manufacturers if the product’s label was approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or complies with other various federal policies.

However, this provision would not apply to a pesticide product that is made by a company owned by the Chinese government. So Chinese-owned Syngenta could be sued while German-based Bayer would be safe from litigation. Bayer is registered in favor of the Senate bill, while Syngenta is registered against it

Similar legislation is being considered in Florida, Idaho, and Missouri.

In recent years, Bayer has been entangled in various legal battles over its Roundup weedkiller and its link to cancer. Sokolove Law, a national personal injury firm, said there have been 165,000 Roundup lawsuits against Bayer and Monsanto, which Bayer acquired in 2018.

 According to the Associated Press, “Bayer had set aside more than $10 billion in 2020 to settle about 125,000 cases, many consolidated in California. And it won a string of nine individual lawsuits that started going to trial in 2021. But the tide changed last year when juries began handing down nine- and 10-figure awards to plaintiffs who had developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”

During an Iowa Senate subcommittee on the bill, a Bayer lobbyist cited in the Cedar Rapids Gazette said the company is not allowed to label pesticides with a warning that exceeds existing law and EPA regulation. 

“We are not in a position where we can make that kind of warning,” said Bayer Lobbyist Brad Epperl. “There’s no regulatory body in the entire world who finds this carcinogenic.”

While it is true that no regulators, including the EPA, have labeled pesticides as carcinogenic, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)—a division of the World Health Organization—classified glyphosate “as probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is a key ingredient in many pesticides, including Roundup.

Sen. Jeff Edler (R-State Center), a farmer, downplayed the IARC’s warning and the risks of using glyphosate products during a March 19 Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on the bill.

“IARC is not a regulatory authority and it did no original studies,” he said. “With that being said, what we have is the ultimate conundrum between regulatory authorities and research bodies, who I would also throw out there have classified red meat as carcinogenic, hot beverages as carcinogenic, and led to many of the Prop 65 carcinogens in California.” 

Edler said this bill is needed because the EPA controls the labels of the pesticides and because there is disagreement on glyphosate’s links to cancer. 

“We are trying to prevent what I’m going to call frivolous lawsuits and a loophole that has been used to sue with no cause,” he said.

A majority of the Roundup lawsuits have involved farmers and others, such as groundskeepers, who use weed killers regularly as part of their job duties.

Sen. Molly Donahue (D-Cedar Rapids) questioned why the Iowa Senate passed a bill to ensure proper labeling of alternative meat products but is going out of its way to protect chemical companies for not adequately labeling its products.

“We are so afraid that people were going to eat meat that isn’t really meat so we’re labeling, but we will not label chemicals that are going to kill people,” she said at the committee meeting. “We have something very backwards here in our caucus.”

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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