Legal firm Maurice Blackburn has launched its class action against Monsanto on behalf of clients diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) which it claims was due to using or being exposed to glyphosate-based Roundup herbicides.
The case went to the Federal Court in Melbourne on Monday morning with over 800 complainants signed up to the action, which regards to use of the popular herbicide between 1976 and 2022.
Andrew Watson, Maurice Blackburn national head of class actions, said the class action would determine whether glyphosate was a human carcinogen.
Internationally, there have been similar damages cases against Monsanto, which has been owned by Bayer since 2018, where the plaintiffs have been awarded big payouts.
The Australian glyphosate litigation commenced in 2019 by two individual plaintiff claims and one class action claim filed against Monsanto Australia in the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia by Tony Carbone Lawyers.
These three cases have been permanently stayed by the Federal Court meaning they will come under the banner of the Maurice Blackburn case to stop having four cases with essentially the same claims being heard simultaneously.
Another claim, also a class action, was filed in the Federal Court of Australia by the law firm LHD Lawyers, being John Fenton v Monsanto Australia Limited, which is stayed until the findings of the McNickle claim are handed down.
The science of Roundup's safety is bitterly disputed, with Bayer remaining steadfast that the product is safe to use, and the herbicide still classed as safe to use by most regulators globally, however others allege that it is a carcinogen, harking back to a controversial 2015 report from the World Health Organisation affiliated International Agency for Research on Cancer that found the herbicide was carcinogenic.
The lead applicant in the Maurice Blackburn action is Kelvin McNickle, used the herbicide to spray weeds in his family vegetation management business.
Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in 2018, is vigourously contesting the allegations.
A company spokesperson said Roundup and glyphosate-based herbicides had been rigorously tested in hundreds of studies, that the weight of this extensive body of science confirms that glyphosate is safe when used as directed and is not carcinogenic, and that this is supported by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and other leading health regulatory authorities around the world.
The spokesperson said Monsanto's defence of the claim demonstrates Bayer's ongoing commitment to supporting Australian farmers by ensuring innovative products such as Roundup continue to be available, advancing sustainable agriculture and protecting food security.
They said Bayer had a strong track record of successfully defending Roundup at trial, having recorded its seventh consecutive favorable jury verdict in the USA in May.
Mr Watson said central to the McNickle case was the premise that under consumer legislation, Roundup products had a safety defect and were not of acceptable quality.
Maurice Blackburn alleges the sellers were negligent in selling the product which they knew, or should have known, were carcinogenic.