Saturday, August 11, 2018

Jury in landmark case rules against Monsanto

Court verdict awards man who claims that Roundup caused his terminal cancer $289 million

Monsanto plans to appeal a verdict that awarded $289 million to a dying man who blamed its herbicide Roundup for his cancer.

Attorneys for the 46-year-old former school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, said the decision will bolster thousands of pending cases and open the door for countless people who blame their suffering on the weed killer, according to an Associated Press story by Paul Elias today.

"I'm glad to be here to be able to help in a cause that's way bigger than me," the plaintiff reportedly said about yesterday's verdict. 

The California Superior Court jury in San Francisco unanimously agreed that Johnson's heavy contact with Roundup contributed to his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and that, the story said, "Monsanto should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard."

The $289 million was broken down into $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 in punitive damages. Johnson's lawyers had sought a total of $373 million.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an attorney for Johnson and the son of the late U.S. senator, declared on Twitter that the punitive damages were for "acting with malice and oppression."

He predicted that the verdict "is going to trigger a cascade of new cases."

An online Common Dreams story quoted Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, an advocacy group and longtime Monsanto critic, to the effect that the verdict proves "there is no confusion" when "ordinary citizens, in this case a jury of 12, hear the facts about Monsanto's products, and the lengths to which this company has gone to buy off scientists, deceive the public and influence government regulatory agencies."
Robert Cummins

And, to twist the knife, he added: "This is a company that has always put profits ahead of public safety…We hope that this is just the first of many defeats for Monsanto, and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will pull this product off the market."

The case was the first filed by a cancer patient against the agribusiness giant to reach trial. It was fast-tracked because of the severity of Johnson's cancer.

Elias' story quoted Brent Wisner, Johnson's lead trial lawyer, as saying that the jury has told Monsanto, a unit of Bayer AG following a $62.5 billion acquisition by the German conglomerate"
"Enough. You did something wrong and now you have to pay…There's 4,000 other cases filed around the United States and there are countless thousands of people out there who are suffering from cancer because Monsanto didn't give them a choice…We now have a way forward."

Monsanto, one of the companies that produced for use by U.S. forces in Vietnam the defoliant Agent Orange, which has been linked to cancer and other diseases, has long denied any link between glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and cancer.

It has cited hundreds of studies that glyphosate contending is safe.

Scott Partridge, a spokesman for the agribusiness giant, said the corporation will appeal "and vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective, and safe tool for farmers and others."

Johnson had used Roundup — and a similar product, Ranger Pro — as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district in Benicia, spraying from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck. During gusty winds, Wisner said, the product would cover his face — and once, when a hose broke, the weed killer soaked his entire body.

He allegedly had applied Roundup up to 30 times a year.

When Johnson contacted the company after developing a rash, the attorney added, he was never warned it could cause cancer.

His non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was diagnosed in 2014. His landmark case was filed two years later.

George Lombardi, another Monsanto attorney, said that disease takes years to develop, so Johnson's cancer must have started well before he started working at the district, the AP story notes.

"The simple fact is," Wisner told the jury (which deliberated for three days at the end of the eight-week trial) in his opening statement in July, "he is going to die. It's just a matter of time."

His doctors have indicated that that's likely to happen within two years. Whether he dies before the appeal is adjudicated is anyone's guess.

The EPA, which is the past has often favored big business and now is being gutted by the Trump administration, has said glyphosate is safe for folks using it in accordance with label directions. But the French-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified it in 2015 as a "probable human carcinogen" — and California added it to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

More details on disease risks can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPresss book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Appeal expected on ruling on breakfast foods

Los Angeles court says industry doesn't need to put cancer warning labels on cereals 

There's a cereal war going on these days.

Between advocates of breakfast foods such as Grape-Nut flakes and Cheerios that contain whole grains and researchers who insist those cereals contain a chemical — acrylamide — that's a potential cause of cancer.

The latest shot in the skirmish, according to a story by Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle, came when a California court ruled recently that the breakfast cereals don't need cancer warnings.

The 3-0 ruling by the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles said the cereals, produced by Post, General Mills and Kellogg, needn't heed Proposition 65, a right-to-know law state voters passed in 1986 that "requires businesses to notify the public when their products, or any substances they release into the environment, contain ingredients that have been shown to cause cancer or birth defects" because such labels might discourage consumers from buying healthy food.

A huge win for the cereal industry, the decision was based on 2003 and 2006 letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to state health officials claiming that warning labels "would mislead consumers and lead to health detriments."

Requiring warnings on all foods containing the chemical at levels that pose any risk of cancer, the court indicated, might harm the value of "peanut butter, rye and whole wheat bread, sunflower seeds, and prune juice," according to the Chronicle piece.

Justice Chaney
Another story, by Eric Schroeder on the Food Business News website, reports that Associate Justice Victoria Gerrard Chaney had said no Prop. 65 warning "should be placed on foods, including breakfast cereals, unless and until the science supports such a warning."

The court decision observed "that when the state sought to require Prop 65 warnings on canned tuna because it may contain harmful levels of mercury, an appeals court said California law was preempted because federal health officials were already advising consumers of tuna's benefits and possible risks."

The state Supreme Court, Egelko's story continued, "followed officials' directions in 2004 by refusing to allow Prop. 65 warnings on anti-smoking patches containing nicotine, which can cause fetal damage."

An appeal of the court ruling — in which a dismissal of a suit by Richard Sowinski, a retired Walnut Creek physician who'd sought to require Prop. 65 warnings on 59 cereals — was expected.

The ruling, not incidentally, means the court has rejected arguments that Prop. 65 warnings would encourage the companies to make safer cereals.

Federal agencies have listed acrylamide as a carcinogen, and it was placed on the Prop. 65 list in 1990.

In 2002, researchers learned the chemical was "a byproduct of baking, roasting or frying carbohydrate-rich foods such as potato chips and French fries — both of which now carry Prop. 65 warning labels — and cereals," the Chronicle story stated.

Acrylamide has also been the recent focus of whether warning labels are necessary on coffee packaging.

Details on other cancer risks can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Health agency overrules Superior Court judge

California agency is seeking to nullify court ruling about cancer warnings on coffee packaging

Despite a court decision to the contrary, California officials have basically said coffee won't cause cancer.

That unprecedented action by the state's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment last month was taken after "a review of more than 1,000 studies published…by the World Health Organization that found inadequate evidence that coffee causes cancer," according to a story by Brian Melley of the Associated Press.

The agency's mandate, implementing a law passed by voters in 1986, includes requiring warnings of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects. The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, has so far resulted in cautionary labels for about 900 chemicals.

The controversial chemical in coffee, the AP story notes, is acrylamide, "a byproduct of coffee roasting and brewing present in every cup of joe."

Judge Elihu Berle
Melley's article reports that Judge Elihu Berle had ruled, in an eight-year-old lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, that warnings were required on all coffee packaging sold in the state because "Starbucks and other coffee roasters and retailers had failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any cancer risks." 

A proposed regulation by the OEHHA "would state that drinking coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk," the agency reportedly said in a statement.

"Attorney Raphael Metzger, who won the court case on behalf of The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, said he was shocked the agency would move to nullify the court decision and undermine its own report more than a decade ago that drinking even small amounts of coffee resulted in a significant cancer risk," added the AP story. "The takeaway is that the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion. That's unprecedented and bad. The whole thing stinks to high hell."

More information about cancer risks can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Friday, July 13, 2018

400 lawsuits filed against Monsanto's herbicide

Is Monsanto's Roundup weed killer carcinogenic? Contentious trial underway in San Francisco  

The first court trial to determine if Roundup weed killer is likely to cause cancer is underway in San Francisco.

According to an Associated Press story by Sudhin Thanawala , the contentious trial — with a school groundskeeper dying of the disease as the plaintiff and agribusiness giant Monsanto, the hericide's manufacturer, as defendant — is expected to last about a month.
Dewayne Johnson, plaintiff
The plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, who was diagnosed in 2014 at age 42, claims Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after he sprayed it from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck as a school district pest control manager. 

The AP quoted the opening statement of Johnson's attorney, Brent Wisner, to the effect that "when the wind was gusty, it would cover his face. When a hose broke once, it soaked his entire body."

The attorney showed jurors photographs of lesions on the body of the plaintiff, who had also sprayed with a similar product, Ranger Pro. 

Wisner alleged that between the diagnosis "and now, it's just nothing but pain."

Monsanto's lawyer, George Lombardi, countered by saying that "non-Hodgkin's lymphoma takes years to develop, so Johnson's cancer started well before he began working at the school district."

Thanawala's story notes that "many government regulators have rejected a link between the active ingredient in Roundup — glyphosate — and cancer. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe."

While the plaintiff "is seeking unspecified damages against Monsanto [and] the outcome of Johnson's case will not affect the hundreds of other lawsuits in state and federal may serve as an indicator of how the others might go."

Earlier this week, a San Francisco U.S. District judge, Vince Chhabria, ruled that although evidence seems weak that Roundup causes cancer, experts still could make that claim at trial.

The main claim of the lawsuits by cancer victims and their families is that Monsanto long knew about Roundup's cancer risk but failed to warn them.

Chhabria is handling more than 400 of those suits.

The AP article indicates that Monsanto developed glyphosate in the '70s and that the weed killer is sold in more than 160 countries. "Farmers in California, the most agriculturally productive state in the U.S., use it on more than 200 types of crops. Homeowners use it on their lawns and gardens."

In 2015, the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified the herbicide as a "probable human carcinogen." California later added it to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the AP, "says glyphosate is safe for humans when used in accordance with label directions."

And in February, the story continues, a federal judge in Sacramento blocked California from required that Roundup carry a warning label, saying it would be "misleading because almost all regulators have concluded that there is no evidence glyphosate is carcinogenic."

In Johnson's case, according to an online story by Helen Christopher of Courthouse News Service, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos sided with Monsanto yesterday by disallowing testimony of an cancer-risk expert. The ruling came on a technicality after the corporation's lawyers accused the plaintiff's legal team of trying to sneak into evidence information about the amount of exposure Johnson experienced.

Much more information about cancer causes can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Is 'co-testing' for disease on the way out?

HPV tests may replace Pap smears regarding cervical cancer changes, study suggests

Pap smears may be on the way out, replaced by a test for HPV, when it comes to detecting cancerous cervical changes.

At least that's what a new decade-long study involving some 19,000 women suggests might happen (because the Human PapillomaVirus test apparently is more sensitive and more accurate).

The study, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was reported in a Laurie McKinley story in The Washington Post.
Dr. Gina Ogilvie

Dr. Gina Ogilvie, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and lead author of the study, has cited a particular benefit — the research showing "women who received HPV testing have more reassurance with a negative test and can likely get screened less frequently."

Mark Schiffman of the National Cancer Institute, an HPV researcher himself, confirmed "that it's important to move from the Pap smear to the HPV test alone," according to the Post article. 

He also reportedly maintains that the Pap smear, which he calls "crude and inaccurate," worked only because women were tested often and because cervical cancer grows slowly.

HPV, the Post piece says, "is the most common sexually transmitted infection and is usually eliminated by the immune system. But when an infection persists, it can cause cellular changes that develop into precancerous lesions and eventual malignancies."

McGinley's story notes that "about 13,240 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018, according to the American Cancer Society. About 42,000 women will die of the disease."

In recent years, the article continues, "most medical groups have recommended that women in the United States get both the HPV test and the Pap smear — a practice called 'co-testing.'"

Now, however, many experts are saying the Pap smear should be dropped. That position is still challenged by others who claim "that the Pap smear can catch a small number of cases of abnormal cells that might be missed by the HPV test."

The conventional Pap smear has already been replaced to a large degree by liquid-based Pap cytology tests.

The Post piece contends that "most medical groups," including the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, urge "that women of average risk get both HPV tests and Pap smears every five years between age 30 and 65, though they say a Pap test alone every three years is an acceptable alternative."

McGinley's story also notes that "about 80 million people in the United States are infected with HPV [although] most never develop any health problems because most infections go away by themselves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

Doctors have long urged children and young adults be vaccinated against HPV with a shot approved in 2006 by the Food and Drug Administration.

More details about cancer research can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Oncologists told about chances of recurrence

Pregnancy after breast cancer is now believed safe, lead author of European study says

Breast cancer survivors who want to have children may be sighing with relief.

According to a recent story by Marilynn Marchione of the Associated Press, a study of 1,207 women in Europe shows those who became pregnant after their diagnoses "were no more likely to have their cancer come back than those who did not have a baby."

This was true, the story added, "even if their cancers were the type fueled by hormones, which surge during pregnancy and theoretically might spur a recurrence."

Results of the study were discussed at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.

Dr. Matteo Lambertini
The study's lead author, Dr. Matteo Lambertini of the Jules Bordet Institute in Brussels, Belgium, was quoted as saying the test results show that "pregnancy after breast cancer can be considered safe."

Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer for ASCO, agreed.

Marchione quoted him as saying the results indicate, "fairly convincingly," that women needn't worry. 

More and more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer in their childbearing years, perhaps an outgrowth of "the average age of moms…rising in the United States," the AP story says.

In fact, it notes, "about 11 percent of new breast cancer cases in the U.S. are in women under 45."

The story also reported that a big study now underway "in the U.S. and other countries is taking this research one step further, testing whether it's safe for breast cancer survivors who want to get pregnant to temporarily suspend taking the hormone-blocking drugs like tamoxifen usually recommended for five years after initial treatment."

More details about studies relating to the disease can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Are toxic treatments a thing of the past?

Many early-stage breast cancer patients may now skip chemo, new study's docs indicate

Lots of women with early-stage forms of breast cancer don't need chemotherapy.

At least that's the bottom line of a major international study, according to a recent report by Denise Grady in The New York Times.

Dr. Ingrid A. Mayer
Grady quotes Dr. Ingrid A. Mayer of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, an author of the study, as saying, "We can spare thousands and thousands of women from getting toxic treatment that really wouldn't benefit them. This is very powerful. It really changes the standard of care."

Instead of chemo, the study found, some women could "take only a drug that blocks the hormone estrogen or stops the body from making it."

That drug, tamoxifen, and related medicines "have become an essential part of treatment for most women," Grady's article says, "because they lower the risks of recurrence, new breast tumors and death from the disease."

The findings, which refer to that alternative endocrine therapy, apparently apply to about 60,000 women a year in the United States, according to Dr. Joseph A. Sparano of Montefiore Medical Center in New York, the study's leader.

The Times quotes Sparano as saying that "now we can spare chemotherapy in about 70 percent of patients who would be potential candidates for it based on clinical features."

But, the story adds, both Mayer and Sparano say women 50 and younger "might benefit from chemo even if gene-test results suggest otherwise. It is not clear why. But these women require especially careful consultation, they said."

The study, called TAILORx, was published in The New England Journal of Medicine and presented at a Chicago meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. It was started in 2006 and was paid for by the U.S. and Canadian governments and philanthropic groups.

After 2016, Genomic Health, the company that makes the gene test Oncotype DX Breast Cancer Assy, the one most used in the United States, helped pay for it.

The test, available since 2004, costs about $3,000, and insurance usually covers it.

Some 260,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected in women in the United States this year, and 41,000 deaths. Globally, according to the Times, "the most recent figures are from 2012, when there were 1.7 million new cases and more than half-a-million deaths."

Chemo, long feared because of nausea and hair loss, puts patients at risk for infection and leukemia later in life. But endocrine therapy also has side effects. According to Grady, they include "hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, weight gain and pain in joints and muscles."

Tamoxifen can increase the risk of cancer of the uterus, the story notes.

Despite the discomforts and risks, women with breast cancer have been getting chemo since 2000, when the National Cancer Institute recommended it even for those whose disease had not spread to lymph nodes "based on studies showing it could prevent the cancer from recurring elsewhere in the body and becoming incurable."

Sparano contends, however, that although "recurrences were being prevented, and lives prolonged…we were probably overtreating a lot of these women."

Mayer admitted that "we couldn't figure out who we really needed to treat."

More details on studies about the disease, treatments and risks can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Java industry fighting California jurist's decision

Professor-doctor rebukes judge's final ruling that coffee labels warn about cancer risks

After countless delays (that have taken eight years), it's a done deal at last. Almost.

At least a Los Angeles Superior Court judge's final ruling about the need for warning labels on coffee has become a fait accompli, though not everyone's sanguine about his decision. 

The decision, as might be expected, is being appealed by coffee producers.
Dr. Aaron E. Carroll

And in a recent article in The New York Times under the rubric The New Health Care, Dr. Aaron E. Carroll claims the ruling — which harkens back to statewide ballot Proposition 65 enacted in 1986 and concerns a suit filed against about 90 coffee companies by a nonprofit, Council for Education and Research on Toxics — isn't backed by evidence and could do more harm than good.

The judge's decision is based on the fact that coffee contains acrylamide, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer has warned is a "probable human carcinogen." 

But Carroll, a pediatrics prof at the Indiana University School of Medicine who blogs on health research and policy, maintains the agency "has backpedaled in recent years, [essentially reversing itself when] in 2016 it declared that 'drinking coffee was not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.'"

Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle finalized his ruling in early May after having tentatively made the same decision in March.

The coffee industry has argued all along that the acrylamide is present in coffee but at harmless levels.

What's next? 

The nonprofit, according to an Associated Press story, now must "seek a permanent injunction that would either lead to ominous warning labels" or a commitment by the industry to reduce the chemical from their product, as the potato chip industry did years ago when it, too, was sued by the same group.

Carroll, who's also been outspoken that there's little evidence to support the notion that artificial sweeteners pose a health risk, asserts that acrylamide "is found in about 40 percent of the calories consumed by people in the United States," and notes that the Food and Drug Administration "reports that there is no viable commercial process for making coffee without producing at least some acrylamide."

The writer, who's opposed to most warning labels, points out that "meta analyses have shown that coffee is associated with lower risks of liver cancer, and no increased risk of prostate cancer or breast cancer," and that "when we look at cancer over all, it appears that coffee — if anything — is associated with a lower risk of cancer."

Carroll has authored a new book, "The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully," which contends that butter, salt, diet soda and alcohol have undeserved bad reputations.

Prop 65 had mandated "that businesses with more than 10 employees warn consumers if their products contain one of many chemicals that the state has ruled as carcinogenic" — a category acrylamide falls into. 

More details on which carcinogens appear in which products can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.