Does the most widely used weed killer in the world cause cancer? INTO THE WEEDS
: Dewayne “Lee” Johnson vs. Monsanto Company
follows the story of groundskeeper Lee Johnson and his fight for justice against agrichemical giant Monsanto (now Bayer, which bought the company in 2018), the manufacturer of the weed killer, Roundup.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate - the active ingredient in Roundup - as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” A year later, Lee Johnson filed a lawsuit claiming that Ranger Pro, a commercial-grade variant of Roundup, was a substantial contributing factor in causing his Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Johnson’s was the first ‘bellwether’ case in a mass tort against Monsanto involving tens of thousands of plaintiffs. Blending interviews, trial footage, news coverage and vérité, the film follows the progression of this groundbreaking trial, while also telescoping out to understand both ubiquity of use and its global repercussions.
As the process begins, we get to know Lee and his family - his mother DeLois and his wife Araceli - who have witnessed his deteriorating health since his diagnosis. We spend time with the lawyers leading the litigation who risk years of commitment and staggering amounts of money with no guarantee of compensation. We meet other plaintiffs whose lives have been upended by their Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnoses. As the trial unfolds, we are confronted by significant evidence of Monsanto’s corporate malfeasance. The Monsanto Papers - a collection of internal Monsanto documents obtained during discovery and controversially released to the public by the plaintiffs’ lawyers - reveal that Monsanto had been examining glyphosate’s potential to cause cancer for decades. What plays out is an extensive history of the company’s influence over and manipulation of the very agencies meant to regulate it, a phenomenon known as ‘agency capture.’ There is evidence of carefully orchestrated attacks on independent science and scientists, of ghostwriting papers and falsifying studies, and the lengths to which the company will go to protect their FTO (Freedom to Operate).
In addition to the specifics of the trial, we step back to consider the systemic effects of the world’s most used herbicide. Hundreds of millions of pounds of glyphosate are applied for agricultural purposes each year, and its residue has been detected in a wide variety of food products. We spend time with farmers who have relied on Roundup to maintain the narrow profit margins of industrial food production. Given IARC’s ruling on the dangers of the herbicide, will they stop spraying? Can they afford to? We also consider the chemical’s lesser known non-agricultural uses: parks, golf courses, highways, railway lines, hydro corridors, cemeteries, and vast swaths of forest. We join scientists to consider the systemic effects of such pervasive application on our ecosystems in general and biodiversity in particular. We meet Traditional Ecological Knowledge Elder Ray Owl, from the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation, who is fighting to stop the aerial spraying of glyphosate on the numerous tree plantations within his territory.
As we toggle back and forth between the detail and scale of this ubiquitous product’s impact, it becomes clear that the Johnson verdict will have global repercussions. Our anchor is always Lee: his philosophy, his struggle, and his fight for justice in the face of debilitating and terminal illness. Will Monsanto (Bayer) be forced to change Roundup’s label? To compensate the myriad victims? To address the wide-ranging ecological effects? We consider the limitations of mass torts and using the courts as a tool for social good, and the likelihood of money damages affecting the practice of a company worth billions. By telling Johnson’s story, Into the Weeds ultimately considers whether this kind of David vs. Goliath fight is capable of instigating lasting and substantial change.Impact Campaign Website
© Mercury Films Inc. 2023