Monsanto protest
© Reuters/Mal Langsdon
Bayer-owned chemical company, Monsanto, is facing legal action elsewhere in the world.
For the first time in Australia, a farmer has launched legal action against Monsanto — the manufacturer of Roundup — claiming it caused his cancer.

New South Wales farmer, Ross Wild, 67, has used Roundup on his mixed farming property in Moama since its introduction in Australia in 1976.

Last year, Mr Wild was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and he claims long-term exposure to Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, is to blame.

'Inadequate' warning

He will be represented by Melbourne-based lawyer Tony Carbone who is managing partner of Carbone Lawyers.

In June, Mr Carbone began another case against the chemical giant involving 54-year-old Melbourne gardener, Michael Ogliarolo.

Mr Wild's case was lodged with the Victorian Supreme Court earlier this week.

Monsanto, which is owned by pharmaceutical conglomerate, Bayer, will be served writs for both cases before the end of the week, according to Mr Carbone.

Mr Carbone said the warnings on Roundup bottles were inadequate and his client's clothes and body had been "drenched" in the herbicide over a 40-year period of use.

The plaintiff is pursuing punitive damages or punishment for failing to properly warn consumers of the dangers of use as well as compensation for pain and suffering, potential loss of income, and medical expenses including gratuitous services associated with his care.

"The company has always promoted the product as being safe. In fact, in some instances, it said it was 'safer than table salt'," Mr Carbone said.

"The average person, including farmers and gardeners, would think 'OK, if it's marketed like that then it can't be unsafe'.

"Mr Wild wants everyone to know the product isn't safe."

The Australian cases follow similar trials in the US, in which Monsanto was ordered to pay out billions of dollars in compensation.

In a statement, Bayer Australia said it had great sympathy for any individual with cancer, but the "extensive body of science" on glyphosate-based herbicides supported the conclusion that Roundup did not cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"We firmly stand behind the safety of glyphosate-based products and, as a company devoted to life sciences, assure Australians that their health and the environment are our top priority," it said.

"At the end of the day, whether you're in the court of law, regulatory agencies or court of public opinion, it's the science that should matter here. Bayer stands behind these products and will vigorously defend them."

Mythical' cancer link

The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) declined to comment on the case and directed the ABC to its media release claiming the link between glyphosate and cancer was a "myth".

"More than 800 scientific studies and reviews, including numerous independent regulatory safety assessments, affirm that glyphosate is safe and does not cause cancer," the NFF's media release said.

"A recent longitudinal study by the United States' National Institute of Agriculture followed 57,000 farmers and registered applicators of glyphosate for more than 20 years. The study found no connection between cancer and glyphosate."

The Federal Government has ruled out changes to the laws that govern the use of glyphosate.

Despite successful cases against Bayer-owned Monsanto in the US, Federal Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie said the best available science found glyphosate was safe to use.

That assessment is also supported by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, which is the federal statutory agency responsible for the management and regulation of all agricultural and veterinary chemical products in Australia.

"It is illegal to use glyphosate unless you use it according to the labelling instructions, and that's to keep people safe," she said.

"We've got to not react to emotion or irrational arguments. We have to base our decisions on science, always."

Cancer Council Australia's chief executive, Professor Sanchia Aranda said the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.

"While some of the evidence has shown mixed results, after reviewing hundreds of studies, the IARC concluded that glyphosate is 'probably carcinogenic in humans'," she said.

"The apparent increased risks were mainly found in agricultural workers, and the main cancer type associated with use was non-Hodgkin's lymphoma."

Professor Aranda is calling for a systematic review of the data around glyphosate exposure in Australia, and said coordination, monitoring, and enforcement of laws and regulations associated with the chemical's use should improve.

She said there did not appear to be a cancer risk to the general community through "general use, playing in areas where the product has been applied, or through food consumption".