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What is Roundup Weed Killer?


Ever since agriculture was began thousands of years ago, farmers have had to do battle with weeds. For farmers, weeds are much worse than an eye sore. In addition to plant disease and bugs, weeds can damage crops and destroy harvests. Weeds cause problems in the fields because they rob water, sun and nutrients from the crops that farmers want to grow.

To help farmers protect their crops from many weeds, Monsanto offers a variety of weed killing solutions. Roundup Weed Killer by Monsanto is the most popular herbicide sold in the United States. All Roundup Weed & Grass Killer products have the same active ingredient – glyphosate. This ingredient targets an enzyme that is found in plants but is not in pets or people, according to company claims.

Farmers and homeowners have been using Roundup and other products that contain glyphosate for more than four decades to protect their crops.

Monsanto Claims About Glyphosate

Monsanto states on its corporate website that glyphosate has been a major breakthrough for farming. It says that not only do glyphosate products work well on weeds; they also assist farmers to grow crops in a more sustainable way.

For instance, Monsanto states that glyphosate has assisted farmers to adopt what is known as ‘conservation tillage.’ This is where farmers can till less soil and drive tractors less. That is why farmers can reduce the erosion of soil and carbon emissions, which helps the environment. It is estimated that conservation tillage can actually reduce the erosion of soil by as much as 90%. In 2014, this resulted in reduced carbon emissions by an amount equal to taking nearly two million cars off our roads.

Monsanto states that glyphosate is just one tool in the toolbox of farmers to tamp down and kill weeds. Most farmers will let you know there is no one magic bullet to stop weeds. In fact, if a farmer begins to relay too much on a single tool, no matter how well it works, the weeds can even become resistant to the tool over time. To avoid and manage weeds that are resistant to chemicals, farmers use many tools and practices in a concerted effort. Monsanto reports that it works with industry stakeholders, university researchers and others to offer farmers with advice on how to combine different practices and tools.

Monsanto adds on its site that like all pesticides, glyphosate is regularly reviewed by various regulatory authorities to ensure that it is safe. In the US that is the EPA. Monsanto claims that EPA’s process is comprehensive and is based upon modern science.

How Roundup Works

According to the company website, after you apply Roundup to weeds, glyphosate works through the plant down to the root and eventually kills it. The company warns that glyphosate is unable to discriminate between unwanted weeds and wanted plants, so you should use care that the Roundup does not touch any plants that you want to keep.

The company website states that after Roundup is applied, people and pets can go back to the area where it was applied. For most Roundup products, this will take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. But it depends upon the climate, product and weather. For the gel version of the product, it can take approximately two hours. Once the plant has been dried, rain will not wash off the Roundup.

Monsanto states that most Roundup products deliver results in a few hours. But some can take a bit longer than that. For Max Control 365, it can take 12 hours to actually see the results.

What Monsanto Says About Negative Glyphosate Reports

According to a Monsanto report, there is abundant data that demonstrates the low human health risk associated with glyphosate. So, it is important to consider the adverse health effects reported that are associated with the chemical. Allegations about harms that glyphosate cause often get more attention than the reports that indicate a low overall risk to human health.

Monsanto claims that reports that the chemical disrupts the endocrine system, accumulates in milk, leads to kidney disease and disrupts gut bacteria have been circulating through the media for years.

Monsanto also says there are claims that surfactants used in herbicides with glyphosate is more harmful than initially thought. But by looking at each claim, the company says it is possible to understand that none of the reports are based upon reliable science (this statement is strongly contested by many experts).

The company says one of the most concerning allegations about glyphosate is the one by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that classified the chemical as a probable carcinogen in 2015. This conclusion, the company claims, stands in contrast to every other regulatory agency or authoritative body that has reviewed the chemical.In 2015, the IARC brought together a panel to review the active ingredient glyphosate. Based upon the partial review it did of published literature, IARC classified glyphosate as most likely a human carcinogen class 2A. The finding was in contrast to regular reviews of the chemical and concerns were raised that the reviews had actually overstated the chemical’s hazard. Monsanto claims that IARC’s monograph does not show any new research or data and it is not really a study in the traditional sense. The body did not assemble a report or consider new data on the hazard of exposure or risk of the chemical.All key studies that were considered by IARC have been reviewed in the past by other regulatory agencies. After IARC’s announcement, regulators in the EU, Canada and Japan stated that glyphosate is actually not a carcinogen. Monsanto claims that IARC failed to consider the total weight of the scientific evidence that is available for this chemical. Monsanto argues that complete consideration of the entire dataset as done by regulators around the world, supports overwhelmingly conclusions of safety and lack of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate.

What is the Roundup Cancer Risk from Glyphosate?


2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) changes its outlook on cancer risks related to Roundup. It warned the planet that Roundup is likely a carcinogen for humans. Several studies done around the world led this respected international agency to conclude that Roundup exposure through farming, landscaping, and gardening can result in the following types of cancer:

  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Leukemia

Some experts contend that cancer from Roundup can occur after just eight hours of exposure to the herbicide. Even with a Roundup cancer warning from the WHO, research findings in The Lancet, and cancer warnings and bans around the world, Monsanto is still insisting that Roundup is not a danger for cancer.

As of 2018, glyphosate is still being reviewed by EPA to determine if it meets their definition of a carcinogen. It stated at the end of 2017 that the chemical is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans, but study is ongoing.

Who Is At Risk?

Extensive research shows that Roundup cancer happens in those who use the dangerous herbicide for landscaping, gardening or farming. Researchers think that the cancer risk is due to a chemical reaction between glyphosate and tallow-amines in the product. Gardeners, landscapers and others who are exposed to Roundup have been shown to have higher rates of cancer, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Also, people who are exposed to Roundup have been found to have traces of the product in their urine and blood, according to recent research.

Cancer Dangers from Roundup

Based upon their analysis of several studies, the IARC classified Roundup as a carcinogen for humans. The major risk for cancer is with landscapers, gardeners, farmers and others who regularly work with the product. It is believed that cancer risk increases with only eight hours of exposure. Roundup that is absorbed into crops is not thought to be a serious risk for cancer at this time.

Lymphoma Risks

Several clinical studies done around the globe have increased our understanding of the risk of hodgkins lymphoma from Roundup exposure. Today it is known that anyone who has used the herbicide with any regularity could develop lymphoma. Those who use this glyphosate herbicide directly have a higher risk.

But research has indicated that those who live in areas where the product is used often on crops also have a risk of developing cancer or lymphoma. Research shows that chromosomal DNA changes have been seen in the general public which shows that people who are exposed to glyphosate in the environment could be at risk of developing forms of cancer.

Monsanto Denials

Monsanto is continuing to deny that Roundup does not present a risk for cancer. Many Americans are familiar with Monsanto and find it hard to believe the company would subject people to harm. But over the years, Monsanto officials have been investigated by the Department of Justice and FDA for being allegedly involved in fraudulent scientific studies that may have reported fake evidence of the safety of Roundup.

In the 1970s, the company hired Industrial Bio-Test Labs to do cancer research for Roundup. A federal investigation in 1976 led by FDA found the lab was guilty of regularly falsifying data in its testing on Roundup products. Three top executives of the company were convicted of fraud in the early 1980s.

In 1991, Monsanto also worked with Craven Labs to examine how safe Roundup was and the validity of cancer claims.

A subsequent DOJ investigation showed that Craven used fake data in research and made up results that favored Monsanto. The owner of the company and several of its employees were convicted of fraud in their testing related to Roundup.

In 1996, the AG’s office in New York made fraud claims against Monsanto. They alleged false advertising of Roundup products. Monsanto had to cease and desist its deceptive marketing claims in New York. The company is no longer allowed there to advertise its products as safe for human use. But in most states, Roundup can be advertised as it likes.

How Concerned Should You Be?

Given that much is still unknown about the risk of cancer with Roundup in consumers, many experts say you should not be too concerned about what you are eating at your table. Some say they would hesitate if they consumed a GMO product with grain in it. But some say there is still cause for concern. Part of the reason is that long-term studies about the safety of Roundup products are needed because the ways it is used and how we are exposed to it continues to change.

Over time, weed species get more tolerant to glyphosate; the most resistant weeds survive and pass on that resistant to future weed generations. The resistance means that farms must be using more Roundup to kill weeds. This, combined with more farms using it every year, means more glyphosate could be slowing working its way into our bodies.

What effects prolonged but low-level exposure to Roundup in the home is unknown. What are the actual health consequences for having chronic low exposure over the last 20 years? There has been very little human clinical or epidemiological research on this.

Preliminary research seems to suggest that some people should be more cautious with their Roundup exposure than others. A person with a weaker liver, for example, could be more susceptible to glyphosate’s effects on the liver, which could lead to fatty liver disease, if not cancer. Also, small children and adults with immune deficiencies could be more susceptible to Roundup effects.

Legislative Efforts in California Fail

California tried to warn people who come into contact with possible carcinogens with Proposition 65, which requires warning labels on products that can cause cancer, reproductive harm or birth defects. But a week after the ruling, another judge stated that the state could not mandate a label on products with glyphosate because what he thought was strong evidence that showed the chemical was safe. But some experts disagree with the finding and say the evidence is strong that extended exposure to Roundup can lead to cancer and other diseases.

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More than 300 lawsuits have been filed on behalf of farmers and others who said that Monsanto's popular weed killer, Roundup, gave them cancer. Could their claims be true? In theory, a scientist ought to know the answer. But how scientists come to their conclusions is being evaluated in a federal courtroom this week.

Some general guidelines govern what kind of science is allowed to be considered in a court of law. Whether or not experts in a lawsuit are working within those guidelines—and, therefore, should be allowed to testify—is evaluated during something called a Daubert hearing. The hearing in this particular case began Monday in San Francisco.

That doesn't mean any decision is being made about what the good science means. “The judge is not deciding this week whose experts are correct,” one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, Timothy Litzenburg, told Newsweek. (It also doesn't mean that the trial could be starting soon; it’s impossible to say when the judge, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria, might issue a ruling based on what he hears this week.)

Experts appearing in courts are expected to rely on scientific evidence based on techniques that are testable, peer-reviewed and widely accepted, according to Cornell Law School’s open legal dictionary. Scientists should also be able to describe how accurate the technique is and agree on how it’s done.

All this was supposed to be evaluated back in December. But Laura Beane Freeman and her team changed those plans. She and her colleagues published a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute stating that among the 54,000 farmers studied, glyphosate did not appear to create an increased risk of almost any cancer.

Only one particular type of cancer, acute myeloid leukemia (AML), appeared to be linked to glyphosate. However, the link wasn’t considered “statistically significant.” David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, noted in a statement given to the U.K.’s Science Media Centre that the link was “no more than one would expect by chance when looking at 22 different cancer types.”


roundup france storeBottles of Monsanto's Roundup pesticide in a gardening store in France. In March 2015, the U.N.'s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, as "probably carcinogenic to humans."PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

And, Beane Freeman notes, that study was the first to ever look at AML and glyphosate exposure. Any link, even a weak one, should be confirmed by further studies. 

That study was published on November 9. By November 10, Chhabria had heard about it. In a pretrial motion specifically citing the study, he asked the lawyers in the case if they believed the Daubert hearing should be postponed.

Clearly, someone thought it should be.


french farmer roundupFarmer Nicolas Denieul fills his agricultural sprayer with roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide made by Monsanto, in France on December 29, 2017.JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Searching for a conclusion from scientific authorities turns up a bit of a mess. Beane Freeman works for the NCI. She isn't testifying, but people who used to work at the institute are among those who are on behalf of the farmers. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, said in 2015 that glyphosate probably could cause cancer in humans, though the evidence is still not conclusive. But a committee that included the World Health Organization said something a little different—specifically, that glyphosate on people's foods probably doesn't cause cancer. The California Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has glyphosate listed on its roster of chemicals that can cause cancer.

While those assessments all relied on data and studies, few involved humans. “There are relatively few epidemiological studies of glyphosate and human cancer risk,” Beane Freeman said. “Doing a study to evaluate this in a human population is actually a pretty challenging study to do.” Measuring the amount of the chemical that a person has been exposed to is one of those challenges, she noted; gathering enough people to pick up on an increased risk of rare cancers is another. And, of course, even studies that can find enough people with enough good information will have limitations, she said.

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