Mosque and Monsanto

Staff & Wire Reports

Vehicles are parked outside the Grand Mosque in Weizhou in northwestern China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, early Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. Thousands of Muslims gathered at a mosque in northwestern China on Friday to protest its planned demolition in a rare, public pushback to the government's efforts to rewrite how religions are practiced in the country. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

Vehicles are parked outside the Grand Mosque in Weizhou in northwestern China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, early Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. Thousands of Muslims gathered at a mosque in northwestern China on Friday to protest its planned demolition in a rare, public pushback to the government's efforts to rewrite how religions are practiced in the country. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

Religion must obey Chinese law, paper says of mosque protest


Associated Press

Sunday, August 12

WEIZHOU, China (AP) — A newspaper of the ruling Communist Party said Saturday that no religion is above the law in China, urging officials to stay firm while dealing with a rare protest over the planned demolition of a massive mosque in the northwest.

The Global Times said that local officials in the town of Weizhou in Ningxia, a region that’s home to many ethnic minority Hui Muslims, must act against what it described as an illegal expansion of a religious building.

Thousands of Hui people gathered at the towering Grand Mosque on Thursday and Friday to prevent authorities from demolishing the structure, residents contacted by The Associated Press said. It was a rare, public pushback to the party’s efforts to rewrite how religions are practiced in the country.

“People are in a lot of pain,” said Ma Sengming, a 72-year-old man who was at the protest from Thursday morning until Friday afternoon. “Many people were crying. We can’t understand why this is happening.”

Ma said the group shouted “Protect faith in China!” and “Love the country, love the faith!”

The protest comes as faith groups that were largely tolerated in the past have seen their freedoms shrink as the government seeks to “Sinicize” religions by making the faithful prioritize allegiance to the officially atheist Communist Party. Islamic crescents and domes have been stripped from mosques, Christian churches have been shut down and Bibles seized, and Tibetan children have been moved from Buddhist temples to schools.

Such efforts were clearly behind the planned demolition of the mosque in Weizhou, where dozens of men, women and children milled about on the mosque steps, on plastic chairs and in the large dirt parking lot early Saturday before dawn prayers. Above them hung long banners from the second story of the mosque that read in Chinese: “Stick to directives of Sinicized religion.”

The mosque, an imposing white building lit at night with gold, green and yellow, dwarfs the surrounding dim warren of brick and concrete homes. Its architecture of four minarets and nine domes tipped with crescent moons would be at home anywhere in the Islamic world, save for the large red and yellow Chinese flags fluttering from the ramparts and the wide central staircase.

Authorities were clearly nervous about the unrest. Early Saturday morning, men in plainclothes, including one who identified himself as police, prevented AP reporters from conducting interviews at the mosque and chased them away.

Later Saturday, police stopped the reporters at a checkpoint in the direction of the mosque and detained them for more than an hour before ordering them to turn around, and tailing them with two cars to ensure they did not change course.

The residents of Weizhou were alarmed by news that the government was planning to demolish the mosque despite initially appearing to approve its construction, which was completed just last year.

The authorities now planned to take down eight out of the nine domes topping the mosque on the grounds that the structure was built larger than permitted, said Ma Zhiguo, a resident in his late 70s. But community members were standing their ground, he added.

“How could we allow them to tear down a mosque that is still in good condition?” he said, adding that the mosque conducts prayers attended by about 30,000 Muslims and was built using believers’ personal funds.

Officials in the county and city propaganda offices said they were not aware of the situation. Other local authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

But the Global Times newspaper said in an editorial Saturday that the authorities had to send a message to all religious groups that none of them are above the law.

“Demolishing the mosque is sure to earn the ire of local religious followers. However, if the local government does not react to the illegal act, it will fuel the idea that religions are superior over China’s laws,” the paper said.

In May, the county disciplinary inspection commission published a notice saying that Weizhou authorities had failed to properly inspect what it said was illegal expansion in the construction of the Grand Mosque. As a result of lax supervision, the notice said, four mosques in the county had received a total of 1.07 million yuan ($156,148) in foreign donations. It did not specify whether the Grand Mosque was among the four.

Ma Sengming said protesters remained at the mosque through the night from Thursday to Friday and were twice visited by a local official who encouraged them to go home. Ma said the official did not make any specific promises, but tried to assure the protesters that the government would work with them on the matter.

More than 100 police officers surrounded the mosque, but did not attempt to stop the protest, according to Ma.

Public demonstrations are rare in China, where the government is often quick to quash any hint of dissent. Under President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party is cracking down on religious expression and attacking what it calls radical ideas among the country’s more than 20 million Muslims.

In the far west region of Xinjiang, following sporadic violent attacks by radical Muslim separatists, hundreds of thousands of members of the Uighur and Kazakh Muslim minorities have been arbitrarily detained in indoctrination camps where they are forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the party.

Compared to those ethnic groups, the Hui are culturally much closer to China’s Han majority, similar in appearance and speaking a variation of the mainstream Mandarin language.

But recently, reports said authorities have shut down Hui religious schools and Arabic classes and barred children from participating in Muslim activities.

James Leibold, a scholar of Chinese ethnic policies at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, said the proposed demolition of the Weizhou mosque appeared to be an effort to assimilate ethnic minorities.

“The ultimate agenda is to erode minority identity and create a sense of belonging and connection to Chinese identity and Chinese culture,” Leibold said.


Wang reported from Beijing. Associated Press researcher Fu Ting contributed to this report.

The Conversation

Saudi women can drive, but are their voices being heard?

August 13, 2018


Nermin Allam

Assistant Professor of Politics, Rutgers University Newark

Disclosure statement

Nermin Allam does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


Rutgers University Newark

Rutgers University Newark provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

Earlier this summer, Saudi Arabia lifted the decades-long ban on women’s driving. The move is part of a series of reforms that the country has been implementing. In April the kingdom loosened male guardianship laws – under which women need the permission of a male guardian to work, travel or marry. And in 2015, women were granted the right to vote and run for elections. The reforms serve to revamp the image of Saudi Arabia in the international arena.

More recently, however, in a diplomatic spat, Canada has criticized Saudi Arabia for human rights violations. Saudi officials have responded by cutting all economic and diplomatic ties, withdrawing investments and stopping flights. One of the main issues for the Canadians is the arrest by Saudi authorities of two prominent women’s rights activists. Tweets by Canadian diplomats called on the kingdom to release the activists. Saudi Arabia arrested several women’s rights activists in weeks prior and following the lifting the ban on women’s driving.

As a scholar of gender politics in Middle Eastern societies, I argue that all this goes to show that the kingdom is extending limited reforms to women to represent itself as modern but is adamant on not opening space for more voices.

Women, nationalism and modernization

Historically, the status of women has often served as a measure of social progress.

Take for example, the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who served as president of Egypt from 1956, until his death in 1970. Nasser promoted the participation of women in the public sector as a symbol of the success of the regime in modernizing Egypt.

Women cheer for Gamal Abdel Nasser after he proclaimed a new Egyptian constitution that promised new rights for women in 1956. AP Photo

Under Nasser, the state adopted a series of laws to encourage women’s participation in the workforce. Between 1961 and 1969, the participation of women in the labor force increased by 31.1 percent.

Paid maternity leave was granted to working mothers during the day and child care was made available. Children and child rearing was no longer the sole responsibility of women, but increasingly that of the state and its institutions as well. There was no discussion, however, of men’s responsibility or how to balance work and family.

Scholars, thus, argue that these reforms were not genuine efforts by the regime to alter gender inequalities. Rather, they were important symbols in representing the Egyptian society as modern, socialist and progressive, where men and women were seen to work next to each other.

Also, the reforms did not include meaningful political rights. For example, while women were granted the right to vote in 1956, unlike men, they had to petition the state to include them on the list of registered voters. The regime also moved to suppress independent feminists such as Doria Shafiq, who campaigned for women’s suffrage for years.

Using women for politics

It was the same in many Middle Eastern and North African societies. The image of the woman was often constructed based on a political need at a given time and later deconstructed as well.

In Tunisia, for example, Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s nationalist leader and president, and after him President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali presented the image of the unveiled Tunisian women as a symbol of modernization, secularism and democracy.

Following Tunisian independence in 1956, Bourguiba rejected the veil and viewed it as a barrier to his modernizing project. In his Dec. 5, 1957, speech, he described the veil as an “odious rag” and an obstacle to the country’s path to modernization secluding women from participation in public space.

Bourguiba’s earlier views on the veil were, however, different. At the height of the nationalist struggle, during the 1930s to the 1950s against French colonial rule in Tunisia, Bourguiba emphasized the significance of the traditional Tunisian veil, the sefsari, as a symbol of national identity. The nationalist leader encouraged women to wear the sefsari as a way to oppose the colonial view. The colonial powers pushed for unveiling women and viewed it as part of the modernizing process.

Crackdown on feminists

Coming back to Saudi Arabia, the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has introduced Vision 2030 an ambitious social and economic reform plan, that he first announced in 2016. His goal is to liberalize the Saudi petro-state and open its centralized oil market to foreign investment. His promise is to bring larger parts of the Saudi population – especially women and youth – into the labor force.

At this juncture, reforms in women’s rights demonstrate that the kingdom is en route to modernizing. However, some of the actions of Saudi authorities – such as the arrest of prominent activists that Canada has expressed concerns over – are seemingly at odds with the image the reforms want to project.

Saudi women’s rights activist Souad al-Shammary, who has been jailed several times. AP Photo

The arrests started less than a month before the kingdom was due to lift the ban on women’s driving, when the authorities arrested some of the feminists who had campaigned for women’s rights to drive. Several pro-government social media groups were alleged to have launched a smear campaign tarnishing the activists’ reputation and branding them as “traitors” and “agents of foreign embassies.

The list of detained activists included high-profile feminists such as Loujain al-Hathloul – a vocal Saudi activist who since 2014 has been arrested numerous times for defying the ban on women driving.

Following the decision to lift the ban on driving, the authorities approached the women who had been arrested, in addition to others who previously participated in protests against the driving ban and demanded that they completely refrain from commenting on the decision.

Media coverage has made no mention of the role of activists who had long campaigned for women’s right to drive. Rather, it praised the crown prince for lifting the ban.

In my view, there are many contradictions that surround these recent reforms. By silencing activists, the crown prince appears to tie the decision to allow Saudi women to drive to burnishing his own legacy. More importantly, by imprisoning high-profile feminists, the monarchy attempts to weaken, if not abolish, the ability of women’s groups to organize, advance their rights and be heard.

The Conversation US, Inc.

The Conversation

Walmart tried to make sustainability affordable. Here’s what happened

August 13, 2018

Can Walmart go green while maintaining its commitment to low prices?


Andrew Spicer

Associate Professor of International Business, University of South Carolina

David Graham Hyatt

Research Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management, University of Arkansas

Disclosure statement

David Graham Hyatt is affiliated with the University of Arkansas, which in partnership with Arizona State, founded the Sustainability Consortium with a lead gift from Walmart.

Andrew Spicer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

What a difference the birth of a granddaughter can make.

For Lee Scott, who ran Walmart from 2000 to 2009, the arrival of his granddaughter not only convinced him the threat of global warming was real but set him on a course that altered the very DNA of the world’s largest retailer. He decided he wanted to use its size and resources to make the world an “even better place for all of us,” changing the way millions shop in the process.

In 2005, midway through his tenure, he challenged his employees: “What would it take for Walmart to be that company, at our best, all the time?”

The answer became Walmart’s sustainability program, an ambitious effort to figure out how to get its budget-conscious customers to buy more sustainable products. Of course, it was more than Scott’s granddaughter that pushed the retailer in this direction. A dismal perception among the public as well as a stagnant stock price also played roles in prodding Scott and other Walmart officials to take the company in a more environmentally aware direction.

We spent five years studying the program – speaking with Walmart’s sustainability leaders, its suppliers and others who have a stake in the company’s activities such as environmental groups and farmers. Our findings highlight both the promises and perils of what one Walmart executive optimistically termed the “democratization of sustainability.”

Glaciers, landfills and shopping bags

During our extensive research into the implementation of Walmart’s sustainability program, we found many executives from the CEO on down who were passionate about making the company more environmentally friendly. Before the retailer even began its program, corporate executives traversed the globe to better understand what was at stake.

Lee Scott visited one of the observatories atop Mt. Washington in New Hampshire as part of his climate change fact finding mission in 2005. Jib Ellison, Author provided (No reuse)

We were told stories of Scott’s summer 2005 trip to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, where scientists take measurements of the ice and the wind to measure the effects of climate change and air pollution. There he met with Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp and some of the scientists to discuss the company’s environmental impact and what it could be doing differently. On that same trip, he also met with maple syrup farmers who explained how climate change was affecting their harvests.

Other company leaders made trips to parched cotton fields, landfills covered with Walmart shopping bags and melting Arctic glaciers, all with the aim of gaining a deeper understanding of sustainability and engaging with environmental groups, journalists and critics.

But it still wasn’t clear where all this was going until August of that year, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, causing extensive human suffering and property damage along the coast.

Walmart, in an unusual move, gave local managers wide discretion in helping communities respond and, along with a few other large retailers, worked hard to get needed supplies to the area. In the context of widely reported government failures during the crisis, Walmart received praise for its actions – a far cry from the usual criticism Scott received from social and political activists.

After Katrina, Scott had an epiphany, which culminated in that speech he made in October 2005 near Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, during which he announced the project:

“What if we used our size and resources to make this country and this earth an even better place for all of us: customers, associates, our children and generations unborn?”

Walmart won praise for its efforts to help ferry supplies to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Walmart

Seeking sustainability

In the speech, Scott laid out Walmart’s sustainability vision to Walmart employees and suppliers. He called for reducing waste, using more renewable energy and selling products that “sustained people and the environment.”

In a way, these goals sounded easy. Simply cut down on waste, become more efficient, convince its legions of suppliers to make more sustainable products and sell them at its “low, low prices.” Sustainability goes up, costs go down, everybody wins. But as Scott and his successors learned, this was easier said than done.

Some aspects were relatively straightforward. The company’s efforts to operate more efficiently produced significant environmental value – and helped its bottom line. The efficiency of its fleet of trucks doubled within a decade. Walmart has now converted 28 percent of the energy sources powering its stores and operations globally to renewables.

And last year, the company diverted 78 percent of its global waste from landfills, instead finding ways to recycle, reuse or even sell the garbage. Its goal is to eventually get to 50 percent renewables and zero waste in Canada, Japan, the U.K. and U.S. by 2025.

Selling products that “sustained people and the environment” was harder. By 2008, its was clear that progress was not being made as fast as the company had expected.

Walmart had a challenging job. While the market for sustainable products is large and growing, it has primarily catered to people with a lot of disposable income who can afford to pay the “goodness” premium for things like Toyota Priuses and organic foods.

What about the majority of consumers who usually see the high price of sustainability as a barrier? Are sustainable products a luxury good only attainable by the well off?

The questions and challenges of selling sustainable products escalated over time. What is a sustainable product? How could it be measured effectively and efficiently? And how could this information create value for the company and customers? Would people be willing to pay for it if it was impossible to keep the costs down?

Two interconnected challenges it faced are particularly illuminating: the lack of a sustainability standard and how to convince suppliers and customers to go along.

Walmart aims to eventually get 100 percent of its power from renewable sources, like these solar panels on a Sam’s Club in Glendora, Calif. Walmart

What’s ‘sustainable’ anyway?

Walmart leaders quickly learned that the absence of a credible sustainability standard hampered their ability to market new products.

Back then, marketing products as “sustainable” was anything goes. While a few marketing attributes, like “organic,” are verified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for the most part companies were free to call their products “sustainable,” “natural” or “good for you,” regardless of whether it was true or not.

The need for a standard crystallized when Walmart asked suppliers for proposals for a 2008 Earth Day promotion. It wanted to specifically promote products that were sustainable. Suppliers responded with such a vast range of claims that Walmart managers could not figure out which products to include. Examples of traits that made a product “sustainable” ranged from having “reduced” packaging material – though there was no gauge as to what it was reduced from – to the use of non-toxic ingredients or the product’s overall recyclability.

A subsequent promotion of Campbell’s soup with a green “Earth Day” label (instead of its customary red one) generated external criticism and accusations of “greenwashing.” That is, some bloggers claimed sustainability at Walmart simply meant taking existing products and putting green labels on them.

Lessons like these led Walmart to seek a way of defining what sustainable means for all its products – a mammoth scale given that the company had over 60,000 direct suppliers and a single store could sell about 142,000 products. So, in 2009, the company helped establish the Sustainability Consortium, a collaboration of retailers, suppliers, universities, environmental groups and others to create a data-driven index of sustainability.

The consortium would eventually produce a sustainability “toolkit” with key performance indicators and guidance for achieving sustainability at the product category level whether these be laundry care products, computers or beer.

Such indicators could then be used by consortium members in communications with their suppliers, typically in a sustainability scorecard that the supplier would complete. For instance, a manufacturer might be asked if it had plans for reducing harmful emissions – and if it didn’t, the thinking initially went, this type of information could eventually be passed on to consumers who could then make their own judgments.

The problem was, relying on customers didn’t work.

Getting its budget-conscious customers to choose sustainable products was one of Walmart’s biggest challenges. AP Images for Walmart/Gunnar Rathbun

Focusing on suppliers – not consumers

Most corporate efforts to become more sustainable are based on the premise that consumers are willing to pay more for eggs that are organic or coffee that is sustainably sourced.

This posed a dilemma for Walmart since its margins are so thin and most of its customers shop there for the ultra-low prices. How could they be convinced, en masse, to pay a bit more because something is tagged as sustainable? And what would be the best way to let them know a particular product was more sustainable than another? Company leaders believed, based on internal surveys, that although its customers desired (or would in the future desire) more sustainable products, many did not have the means or desire to pay extra.

And while Walmart’s implementation of sustainability metrics into its supplier scorecards gave it insight into supplier practices, they did not provide detailed, verifiable information required for a customer-facing label.

This led Walmart to focus less on consumers and more on suppliers. If it could just make sure its products were more sustainable or at least that it was able to offer more options – without a meaningful increase in price – it could go a long way toward achieving its goals. And consumers wouldn’t even realize they’re helping make the world a better place.

Walmart’s merchants were ready to listen. The supplier scorecards that started rolling in 2012 helped Walmart identify inefficiencies in its supplies’ own supply chains, just as the retailer had found in its own operations years earlier. Walmart used them to push suppliers to seek out similar low-cost innovations in their operations – so they could become more sustainable without altering product price tags – and aligned 5 percent of its employees’ performance goals on sustainability improvements, thus incentivizing buyers to ask about, and suppliers to report on, sustainability metrics.

Early indications are that Walmart’s supplier-focused product sustainability strategy has been influential. A 2014 study by sustainability consultancy Pure Strategies surveyed a broad range of 100 companies such as Timberland, General Mills and Coca-Cola to better understand what it takes to operate sustainably. It found that Walmart was the top-cited retailer driving suppliers’ investments in product sustainability, with 79 percent identifying the retailer as influential.

It’s ‘complicated’

Many of the primary lessons that Walmart has learned so far relate to an emergent understanding of the complexity of selling low-cost sustainable products.

Walmart Chairman Rob Walton.‘ AP Photo/Gareth Patterson

Commenting about the difficulty developing its sustainability index quickly, Rob Walton, Walmart chairman and son of the founder, told a panel in 2012: “But good gosh, this is really complicated stuff, and it’s giving our buyers information to inform decisions and compare products. It will be a great day when we can give consumers that information.”

Walmart’s efforts showed that balancing cost and sustainability is possible but difficult to implement. For companies, labeling a low-cost product as “sustainable” makes it harder to justify charging a higher price for a similar good that bears that label. And retailers would prefer not to waste limited shelf space providing those options.

Customers may prefer sustainable practices yet be unable to pay the premium, even when it’s very little. So, while Walmart can push in this direction, it probably cannot create a mass market for low-cost sustainable products on its own. The retailer and others who wish to develop such a market will likely continue to struggle with what counts as “sustainable enough” for price-conscious customers.

Until that question is answered, sustainable products are likely to remain “luxury” goods that fail to penetrate into the mainstream.

But if we care for the next generation, as Lee Scott did when he decided Walmart was going green, Walmart’s goal of bringing greater scale and scope to the typically niche market of sustainability is a vital one.

“As you become a grandparent,” Scott told a journalist in 2006, “you just become more thoughtful about what will the world look like that she inherits.”

The Conversation

The Conversation

Jury finds Monsanto liable in the first Roundup cancer trial – here’s what could happen next

August 12, 2018


Richard G. “Bugs” Stevens

Professor, School of Medicine, University of Connecticut

Disclosure statement

Richard G. “Bugs” Stevens does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


University of Connecticut

University of Connecticut provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

In the first of many pending lawsuits to go to trial, a jury in San Francisco concluded on Aug. 10 that the plaintiff had developed cancer from exposure to Roundup, Monsanto’s widely used herbicide, and ordered the company to pay US$289 million in damages.

The plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, had used Roundup in his job as groundskeeper in a California school district. He later developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The jury awarded Johnson $39 million in compensatory damages to cover pain, suffering and medical bills due to negligence by Monsanto, plus an additional $250 million in punitive damages.

This means the jury wanted to punish Monsanto because members believed the company deliberately withheld from the public scientific knowledge that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, was a cancer danger. The size of the damages awarded indicates that the jury was not persuaded by Monsanto’s expert witnesses.

Product liability lawsuits are an important part of American culture. There are many examples of companies knowingly adding toxic agents to their products. So there must be a process for aggrieved individuals who have been harmed to hold these companies accountable.

On the other hand, a lawsuit can be brought against any company for any reason, and some may be frivolous. It is an unfortunate comment on our health care system that so many people are uninsured, and if struck by a dreaded disease, must seek money to deal with it somehow from somewhere.

In many instances it is simply unknown whether a product and its contents are a danger. This verdict is just the first in what could be a long legal battle over Roundup, and proving causality in such cases is not easy. But here are some observations from my own experience trying to help figure out why people get cancer.

Asbestos was widely used in flooring, walls, ceilings and pipes until the 1980s, when it was shown to cause lung cancer. Today workers removing asbestos from older buildings wear protective clothes and respirators. US Army

How credible is the scientific case against Roundup?

Much of the plaintiff’s case was based on a widely criticized 2015 statement by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, that glyphosate was a “probable human carcinogen” (Group 2A on its scale). A classification of “human carcinogen” (Group 1) means that a panel of scientists convened by the IARC believes the agent is a cancer hazard to humans, like smoking and ionizing radiation. The 2A classification is not as strong. It means that there is credible evidence, but it does not reach the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The IARC’s process for determining carcinogenicity has come under heavy criticism before. In particular, in the early 2000s some observers worried that industry was actually influencing the agency to downgrade its classification of chemical agents. In the Roundup cases, the accusation against the IARC cuts the other way. According to some accounts, it was biased against industry and sought a harsh classification for glyphosate.

The IARC has provided a detailed defense of its process in the glyphosate evaluation. It has also published a monograph on glyphosate with all the gory details of the science behind its evaluation.

I served on a monograph working group in 2007 for an IARC assessment of whether shift work was a potential cancer hazard. I have also participated in three other meetings sponsored by IARC over the years, so I have seen the agency’s process up close. In my view, IARC personnel go to great lengths to ensure objectivity and scientific rigor.

This does not mean that their classifications are the last word. In fact, the agency has often changed its classification of an agent based on new evidence after initial evaluation. Sometimes it has become more certain that the agent poses a hazard, but in other cases it has downgraded the hazard.

Monsanto argues that hundreds of tests have shown Roundup does not pose health risks, but several thousand plaintiffs are suing the company, charging that glyphosate gave them cancer.

What path for glyphosate?

Glyphosate and Monsanto could follow the path of the Johns-Manville company, which started manufacturing asbestos products in the 1880s. After many epidemiological studies showed that exposure to asbestos caused very high rates of lung cancer – primarily pleural mesothelioma – and much litigation, the company went bankrupt in 1982. Its assets were reorganized to form the Manville Trust, which allocates monetary damages to people harmed by asbestos.

Some products still contain small quantities of asbestos today, including motor vehicle parts and fireproof clothing. The Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban it in 1989, but was overturned by a federal court. Nonetheless, because asbestos is so clearly linked to cancer, most companies avoid it now for fear of liability.

Alternatively, glyphosate may follow the route of saccharin, an artificial sweetener discovered in the late 1870s. In 1970 scientists reported that saccharin caused bladder cancer in rats, which led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to propose a ban on this extremely popular product in 1977.

A 1946 advertisement suggested that cigarettes were safe by showing a doctor smoking. Scientific evidence later showed that heavy smoker had 10 to 20 times higher risk of developing cancer than non-smokers. SRITA, CC BY-ND

However, after much more research – including toxicology in rats and epidemiologic studies in people – the IARC downgraded saccharin from a classification of “2B: possible human carcinogen” to “3: not classifiable,” and the U.S. National Toxicology Program removed saccharin from a 2016 report on carcinogens. As it turned out, the mechanism for causing bladder cancer in rats did not apply to people, and epidemiological studies showed no association.

Monsanto will undoubtedly appeal this initial decision, and it could be years before the issue is settled once and for all. But with this verdict, the onus is now on Monsanto to provide compelling evidence that Roundup is safe in other trials that soon will follow.

The Conversation US, Inc.

Vehicles are parked outside the Grand Mosque in Weizhou in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, early Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. Thousands of Muslims gathered at a mosque in northwestern China on Friday to protest its planned demolition in a rare, public pushback to the government’s efforts to rewrite how religions are practiced in the country. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil) are parked outside the Grand Mosque in Weizhou in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, early Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. Thousands of Muslims gathered at a mosque in northwestern China on Friday to protest its planned demolition in a rare, public pushback to the government’s efforts to rewrite how religions are practiced in the country. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

Staff & Wire Reports