Attorneys for a Cambria widow have filed suit in Los Angeles court against Monsanto, charging that the publicly traded agrochemical firm’s product Roundup (glyphosate) contributed to the December death of the plaintiff’s husband of 40 years, farmer Jack McCall.
He died following a massive stroke due to complications from anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, a rare version of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. McCall, 69, had symptoms for eight years, but doctors had been puzzled; the disease was diagnosed and treatment begun only three months before his death.
Attorneys on the case — Brent Wisner, Michael Baum and Cynthia Garber of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, and Robert Kennedy Jr. of Kennedy & Madonna — filed the 48-page complaint Wednesday, March 9, in the 9th Circuit California Central District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of Teri Michelle McCall.
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei and Goldman have offices in six California cities, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Kennedy & Madonna are based in Hurley, N.Y.
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‘Tip of the spear’
Jack McCall died Dec. 26. After years of puzzling symptoms and difficulty in getting a diagnosis, doctors determined in September that the popular farmer had a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Soon thereafter, the McCalls learned of the potential link between the use of Roundup and cancer. The farm, which had been using glyphosate-containing herbicide for weed control for about 30 years, immediately stopped using the products.
In a strange twist, the McCalls’ 6-year-old black Labrador, Duke, also died from lymphoma, after years of “sticking his nose into everything he could, including areas where Jack McCall was spraying with Roundup,” according to press information from the McCall legal team.
“We decided to jump into this litigation after hearing about Teri’s case. Her story and relationship with Jack were particularly moving,” Wisner said in email interviews. “Although Baum Hedlund has a long history of taking on massive pharmaceutical companies, this is our first case against a chemical company like Monsanto. … This case is the tip of the spear.”
He said representatives of the firm are “actively investigating additional claims and are working with other law firms to bring pressure on Monsanto to provide honest warnings about the dangers associated with Roundup.”
The personal injury/product liability suit, which seeks wrongful death and punitive damages, alleges that “Roundup was supposed to be safe. After all, Monsanto promoted Roundup as being harmless to humans for over 30 years — going so far as to proclaim the product safe as table salt. The truth, however, is far more insidious.”
The suit maintains that the active chemical glyphosate “is a carcinogen, and Monsanto has known this fact for decades.”
Monsanto is an American multinational firm specializing in agrochemicals and agricultural biotechnology. According to the lawsuit, glyphosate has been in Monsanto products since 1974, when the firm began marketing it under the brand name Roundup. It’s a nonselective herbicide used to kill weeds that commonly compete with the growing of crops.
Roundup is also available on the consumer market for use on lawns, in gardens and for general weed control.
Any time a corporation markets a harmful product to consumers as safe for use, it must be held accountable for the damage caused by that product.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., attorney for Teri McCall
According to Monsanto’s website, the firm founded in 1901 to manufacture saccharine currently focuses on biotechnology and sells 16 brands of weed-control products, six of which are Roundup-based. The firm sells genetically modified seeds that are designed to be resistant to Roundup and other herbicides, offer increased tolerance for insecticides, or increase drought tolerance.
Among the many other products that have been in the Monsanto portfolio in the past include Agent Orange, 2,4D and other herbicides, vanillin, plastics, Celebrex, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and bovine growth hormone.
In 1982, according to Monsanto’s website, “Scientists working for the original Monsanto are the first to genetically modify a plant cell.”
Is glyphosate safe?
The McCall lawsuit states that by 2001, glyphosate had become “the most-used active ingredient in American agriculture, with 85 to 90 million pounds used annually, a number that grew to 185 million pounds by 2007.”
Monsanto representative Charla Lord said in a phone-and-email interview Thursday, March 10, that “we have not seen this lawsuit, but we will review it and its allegations. While sympathetic to any individual experiencing health problems or any family grieving a loss, claims like these regarding glyphosate are baseless and without merit, and we will defend against them vigorously.”
She continued, “Glyphosate has a 40-year history of safe use, and based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, regulatory agencies around the world have concluded that glyphosate can be used safely according to label instructions. No regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate to be a carcinogen.”
Claims like these regarding glyphosate are baseless and without merit, and we will defend against them vigorously.
Charla Lord, Monsanto representative
The McCall legal team disagrees.
“The claim that no regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate to be a carcinogen is puzzling,” Wisner wrote in a rebuttal. “France, Bermuda, the Netherlands, Colombia and Sri Lanka have banned either the private or commercial sale of glyphosate, and Brazil, Argentina and Portugal are among the countries making moves to get it banned. You do not have to go far to find a regulatory agency that considers glyphosate carcinogenic — the WHO has declared it a probable carcinogen, and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment of the State of California has indicated that it will list glyphosate as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said in press information that the attorneys released March 9, “Mounting evidence suggests that Monsanto knew about the hazards posed by glyphosate exposure, but failed to disclose this information to the public. … Any time a corporation markets a harmful product to consumers as safe for use, it must be held accountable for the damage caused by that product.”
Wisner said of Kennedy that “Bobby has been investigating Monsanto for many years,” interest perhaps initiated by his long relationship with farm workers, including Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union.
Former Monsanto employee
Cal Poly grad Kirk Azevedo of Cambria agrees with the McCall attorneys. Azevedo, a biochemist who’s now a Cambria chiropractor, worked for Monsanto for years as a local-market manager and facilitator on the commercialization of genetically engineered crops. He said in a phone interview March 9 that he left the firm in 1998 because of his growing concerns about Roundup and the health safety issues surrounding genetically engineered crops.
He said he was seriously troubled about “unintended proteins being produced by genetically engineered plants, due to the collateral damage caused by the messy process of genetic modification. … There were a lot of side effects and collateral damage.”
“The process of genetic engineering of these products is a lot messier and (more) imprecise than the public and academics thought,” Azevedo said. “It was released into commercialization at a really infant stage.”
Azevedo said the herbicide “also is a biocide, which kills bacteria in the soil, but also in our stomachs. We now know our body has within it 10 times more cells that we hadn’t considered in the past to be ‘our cells.’ We now know differently. Those cells are bacteria. They are part of us. Roundup can kill those bacteria.”
He said Monsanto also holds the patent for glyphosate to be “used as an antibiotic” to be injected into people.
The McCall family
The McCall family is well known on the North Coast area, having lived here for more than four decades, and having sold their produce for decades at the Cambria farmers market. That produce includes citrus, apples, avocados, tomatoes, peppers, plums and even seasonal pumpkins.
Jack McCall, an avid surfer, bowler and especially good baseball player/coach, also worked for the town’s postal branch for 20 years. The quietly religious man had served in the 101st Airborne Division as an artillery forward observer in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star and Distinguished Flying Cross. He left the service as a first lieutenant and then studied agriculture at Cal Poly.
Teri McCall is a Realtor and matriarch of the extended farm family. She also managed a two-room bed-and-breakfast “farm stay” in a circa-1885 house on the 22-acre family farm; that lodging isn’t operating now. Farm stays are a popular form of ecotourism.
The three McCall children — David, Paul and Maggie — were raised on the North Coast farm, and two of them still live nearby with their own families and children.
The McCalls have spent decades contributing their time, talents and caring to the community. The North Coast returned the favor, first at a massive fundraiser for David McCall, who had been injured in a September 2006 fall that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Then hundreds of mourners honored the family again at a memorial service for Jack McCall.
Now that emotional support has turned to the McCall lawsuit, with news about it and reactions to it blazing across various social media platforms.
Teri McCall said that support helps keep her going now, along with her strong need to get justice for her late husband and closure for her family.