In response to thousands of claims that its weedkiller Roundup causes cancer, the multinational corporation Bayer announced a new legal settlement. But according to student-led organization Herbicide-Free Campus (HFC), Bayer’s proposal falls short.
Founded by undergraduates at UC Berkeley, HFC works to eliminate synthetic herbicides from schools across America. By driving the transition to organic land management, HFC aims to establish safer working and learning conditions for all.
Bayer intends to pay US$10 billion in reparations to those who claim Roundup caused their health problems. But the company does not assume “liability or wrongdoing” and will continue selling its product, according to a recent press release from Bayer.
HFC released a statement calling attention to Bayer’s new settlement. According to HFC, the settlement is “a band-aid solution that fails to address the dire need for…increased regulation” of synthetic herbicides. To protect public health, HFC recommends a nationwide ban on Roundup and other synthetic herbicides.
“It is crucial to give consumers full transparency about the toxicity of the products they utilize so they can take action to protect themselves,” says Mackenzie Feldman, Founder and Executive Director of HFC.
Popular among farmers, landscapers, and homeowners, Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But a growing body of evidence, including a report from the World Health Organization, classifies glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, as a “probable carcinogen.”
While some countries have banned glyphosate, government regulators around the world, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, maintain that the product is safe. Many farmers and agricultural associations also contend that glyphosate is more effective than available alternatives.
“Power, money, and corporate influence have built barriers that make the transition away from synthetic pesticides difficult,” Feldman tells Food Tank. “These factors have created…a gap in knowledge about how to manage land any other way.”
To address this issue, HFC offers opportunities to learn about organic land management. They also organize events with speakers like former school groundskeeper, Dewayne Lee Johnson, who sued Monsanto (later acquired by Bayer) after developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from glyphosate exposure.
Since founding HFC, Feldman and her team have helped ban the use of glyphosate on all University of California campuses and also worked with the Protect Our Keiki Coalition to get all herbicides banned from every public school in the state of Hawaii. Today, HFC mentors students working on 18 active campaigns in 10 states. The HFC team is also recruiting more schools to join its coalition of organizers.
While the coronavirus has disrupted HFC’s conventional pathways for activism, Feldman says it is also a catalyst for positive change.
“Now is the optimal moment…to prioritize health and social justice,” Feldman tells Food Tank. With fewer people on campus, she says schools and other institutions have the necessary time to rethink their green spaces and adopt non-toxic practices.
But while many people have the choice to remain home, Feldman says groundskeepers do not. Members of this essential workforce, occupied predominantly by people of color, continue to apply synthetic herbicides during the pandemic, often without adequate training and protective equipment.
Through social media, virtual meetings, and petitions, HFC is shifting its operations online to advocate for essential workers and more stringent herbicide-use standards. To achieve these goals, Feldman says it is important to remember that government and regulatory agencies are beholden to their constituents.
“Community activism is essential to providing support for policy and legislation and even spurring it,” Feldman tells Food Tank. “We each have the power to speak up, educate our neighbors, and effect change.”