A Virginia lawyer arrested earlier this month for extortion should bring much-needed attention to one of the biggest legal, scientific, and environmental scams in recent memory: The case against Roundup, a weedkiller used on farms and open spaces in more than 160 countries around the world.
Timothy Litzenburg, a Charlottesville attorney, has been charged with threatening an unnamed company unless it paid his $200 million shakedown. The unidentified company, according to the federal indictment, manufactures glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup.
Litzenburg warned he would use “media and other means to find plaintiffs to sue” the company if it didn’t pay up. “In exchange for the $200 million, Litzenburg allegedly indicated that he would not tell any existing or future clients about Company 1 or its purported role in manufacturing the product,” federal prosecutors said in a press release.
Litzenburg is one of hundreds of attorneys seeking to profit from alleged damages caused by the popular weedkiller. If you own a television, you’ve seen the commercials: Lawyers trolling for sufferers of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who’ve used Roundup. The ads warn that glyphosate contained in the Roundup formula is linked to the deadly cancer.
This year alone, law firms have spent more than $60 million on advertisements seeking alleged glyphosate victims to join lawsuits filed against the makers of Roundup. Their main target is Monsanto, the company that invented and sold the product for years. (Monsanto was acquired by Bayer in 2018. It is not the unnamed company in the federal indictment.)
Litzenburg figured his ransom note would work. After all, massive verdicts against the company have started to roll in. An Alameda County jury in May awarded more than $2 billion in damages to a California couple stricken with the disease; both had applied Roundup to their property for decades. (A judge later reduced the sum to $87 million.)
Litzenburg represented the first winning plaintiff in a glyphosate lawsuit when a California groundskeeper won a $289 million judgment against Monsanto in 2018.
The eye-popping verdicts, however, reward all the wrong people and not just corrupt, fame-seeking attorneys.
The Bête Noire of Green Bullies
The onslaught is the culmination of long-time collaboration between radical environmentalists, activist scientists, anti-corporate zealots and socialist politicians—including French President Emmanuel Macron and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders—who want to destroy the company and ban the ubiquitous herbicide. The cause even has drawn endorsements from celebrities such as Mark Ruffalo and Bette Midler.
The reason is that Monsanto—now Bayer—has been the bête noire of green bullies who organize an international March Against Monsanto each year to protest the company for representing everything allegedly wrong with American agribusiness. They insist the company is a greedy behemoth fueling the mass production of chemical-doused commodity crops at the expense of the planet.
The antagonist who set the stage for the current tort litigation is a corrupt agency under the purview of the World Health Organization. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer used sketchy data to claim glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen based on “limited” evidence; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was the only cancer it identified as a potential side effect from using the chemical.
The IARC is populated with green activists with a grudge against Monsanto. One IARC advisor now is a paid legal expert for the plaintiffs in several Monsanto-glyphosate lawsuits. (For years, that scandal was under investigation by House Republicans and ended after Democrats took power.) As I wrote in 2017, “it is now obvious that this [IARC] report was prepared and promoted by dishonest activists to wage an international assault on a safe, necessary chemical just because they hate the company that makes it.”
Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency propelled the drama by delaying the release of its own study that supported a large body of international scientific evidence concluding glyphosate poses no threat to human health. (In April, President Trump’s EPA finally issued the safety evaluation of the chemical, confirming “there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.”)
So why has a weed killer that can be purchased at every hardware store and home improvement center become a flashpoint?
Because Monsanto not only manufactured Roundup, it also produced genetically engineered seeds designed to tolerate the weedkiller without destroying the plant. Two Monsanto inventions—“Roundup Ready” corn and soybeans—have resulted in yield increases of both crops over the past 20 years.
Nearly all of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. originate from these genetically engineered seeds that rely on the use of Roundup. Ultimately, about one-third of all corn and about 70 percent of all soybeans are converted into feed for chickens, pigs, and cattle.
And that’s where Democrats, climate activists and the strategy to litigate Roundup out of existence collide.
Enter the Green New Deal
Modern agriculture is a sworn enemy of climate change propagandists. From carbon-emitting farm machinery to nitrogen-emitting fertilizer to methane-emitting cow flatulence, the agriculture sector partially is to blame for anthropogenic global warming, climate alarmists allege, accounting for nine percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Any attempt to achieve the “net-zero carbon emissions” outlined in measures such as the Green New Deal would require a drastic and undoubtedly devastating reformation of the farming and ranching industries.
The Green New Deal, sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) earlier this year, outlined the harsh punishment that would be inflicted on American agriculture to halt the rise of global temperatures. The goal sounds innocent enough; the government promises to work “collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.”
But, as you’d expect, there’s more to the story. Part of the scheme is to reduce the consumption of meat. As Americans turn away from decades of bad advice about avoiding animal fat for health purposes, and fashionable diets extol the benefits of bacon and burgers, environmentalists and their vegan soul sisters now warn that meat is a driver of climate change.
Ocasio-Cortez has encouraged school children to skip eating meat or dairy for one meal a day to combat climate change. In an interview in February, Ocasio-Cortez said Americans need to scrutinize factory farming and its impact on climate change:
And so it’s not to say you get rid of agriculture, it’s not to say we’re gonna force everybody to go vegan or anything crazy like that. But it’s to say, ‘Listen, we gotta address factory farming. Maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
This is the same woman who expressed shock that plants grow out of the ground after she joined a community garden in New York City.
Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a Democratic candidate for president and avowed vegan, often blames meat-eating for climate change.
“We’ve seen this massive increase in consumption of meat produced by the industrial animal agriculture industry,” Booker told VegNews earlier this year. “We see greenhouse producing gases produced; the devastating impact is just not practical. We will destroy our planet unless we start figuring out a better way forward when it comes to our climate change and our environment.”
Higher Costs, Fewer Freedoms
Cutting off the abundant food supply for farm animals is one way for climate activists to get their way; a ban on glyphosate here would be the quickest way to achieve their goal. And it’s not far-fetched. Vietnam just banned the importation of glyphosate and the European Union in 2017 narrowly defeated a proposal to ban the sale and use of the chemical.
If Democrats take the White House in 2020 and retain control of the House of Representatives, it’s very likely they will use the glyphosate judgments as justification to ban the chemical nationwide; some localities in the U.S. already prohibit its use and an ongoing battle between the state of California and the Trump Administration will eventually decide whether products will need to carry a glyphosate “warning” label.
Eliminating glyphosate would drastically reduce feed crop yields, prompting a major rise in food costs, especially meat. Further, it would green-light more bad science and enrich more bottom-feeding lawyers while punishing farmers and consumers.
But hucksters like Litzenburg are only getting started: Several trials will begin after the new year and the public demonization of a safe and necessary chemical will continue. So too, undoubtedly, will the legal shakedowns.