Costco stops selling controversial Roundup weedkiller

Monsanto just lost a major court battle to a man who said he developed cancer after using Roundup.

  • Monsanto was just ordered to pay $80 million to a man who said he developed cancer as a result of using the company's weedkiller Roundup.
  • Roundup contains the chemical glyphosate, which the World Health Organization described in 2015 as a "probable carcinogen."
  • Costco will reportedly stop selling Roundup, and a petition is currently calling on other big retailers to do the same.

A federal jury awarded a California man $80 million on Wednesday after finding that Roundup, a Monsanto-made weedkiller, played a role in causing his cancer. It was a major blow for Monsanto, which faces thousands of lawsuits from non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients who used Roundup and later developed cancer. It's the second time a jury has issued a multimillion-dollar verdict against Monsanto in a Roundup-related case.

Now, Costco has reportedly decided to begin to stop selling the popular weedkiller, which contains glyphosate — an herbicide which the World Health Organization described in 2015 as a probable carcinogen. Moms Across America founder Zen Honeycutt, whose petition calling for Costco to stop selling Roundup has more than 150,000 signatures on Change.org, wrote on her website:

"I called the headquarters, and after two days of messages and calls, I did finally confirm with three people that Costco was not ordering Roundup or any glyphosate-based herbicides for the incoming spring shipments."

Costco has yet to issue an official statement on the petition. However, in conversations with the administrative staff at various stores, Big Think has learned that the product was pulled off the floor this week per corporate orders — meaning, Costco's removal of Roundup applies to "all locations."

Meanwhile, Moms Across America has another petition on Change.org calling on Home Depot and Lowe's to pull the product from their shelves:

"We call on Home Depot and Lowe's today to step up as Costco has to protect us, your customers, and stop selling Roundup (and all glyphosate herbicides) now, due to its carcinogenic effects and lack of labeling," the petition reads. "Everyone deserves to know! These products should not be sold to the public!"

But in the wake of Wednesday's verdict, Bayer, the pharmaceutical giant that owns Monsanto, maintains that glyphosate is safe and plans to "vigorously defend" its product and appeal Wednesday's verdict, according to Bloomberg. Both farmers and ordinary consumers use Roundup. If only residential consumers stop using the weedkiller, it likely won't have a big impact on the company's bottom line.

"That's a small fraction of the legacy Monsanto business, so that won't have a significant impact on the results," chemicals analyst Christopher Perrella told Bloomberg. "But it certainly is having a big impact on the market cap of Bayer."

However, it's not immediately clear how much Monsanto would lose if big retailers such as Costco continue to stop buying Roundup. Currently, the signature asking for Lowe's and Home Depot to drop the product has about 90,000 signatures.

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  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
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Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.