Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. serves small, medium, and large pesticide product registrants and other stakeholders in the agricultural and biocidal sectors, in virtually every aspect of pesticide law, policy, science, and regulation.

By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and Lisa R. Burchi

On June 22, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California granted summary judgment for the Plaintiffs in National Association of Wheat Growers et. al. v. Becerra, and entered a permanent injunction against enforcement of a Proposition 65 (Prop 65) warning label for pesticide products containing glyphosate.  The court found that requiring the registrants of glyphosate products to include such a warning could not be justified as a valid restriction on commercial speech and therefore is contrary to the First Amendment of the Constitution.  The same District Court had previously entered a preliminary injunction against the Prop 65 warning in 2018, and the required warning has consequently never been in effect. (See our February 28, 2018, blog entitled “Eastern District of California Rules on Motion to Enjoin Prop 65 Listing and Warning on Glyphosate Products.”)  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has stated that it would not allow a Prop 65 warning to be added to the labeling for any registered glyphosate product because such a warning is misleading and would cause the product to be “misbranded” under Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 2(q)(1)(A). (See our August 15, 2019, blog entitled “EPA Issues Guidance Regarding Prop 65 Labeling Requirements for Glyphosate Products and OEHHA Responds.”)

A Prop 65 warning is required when the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) determines that a product contains a substance that has been classified as a human carcinogen by certain authoritative bodies, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  Based on an IARC determination that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic” in humans, OEHHA listed glyphosate in July 2017 as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, thereby triggering Prop 65 warning requirements.  Despite the IARC determination, every other authoritative body that has considered the matter (including EPA, the European Commission, and the World Health Organization) has reached a contrary determination that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic in humans.  California’s imposition of a Prop 65 warning for glyphosate was challenged in 2018 by the registrant Bayer and a coalition of farming groups and industry stakeholders, who obtained a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the warning.

Before entering the new permanent injunction, the District Court considered whether California’s regulation of commercial speech should be scrutinized under the lower standard set by the Supreme Court in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel or the intermediate standard set by Central Hudson Gas & Electric v. Public Service Commission.  The Zauderer standard only applies to mandatory disclosure of “purely factual and uncontroversial information,” and the Court found that the Prop 65 warning for glyphosate is “misleading” and therefore neither factual nor uncontroversial.  Under the Central Hudson level of scrutiny, a governmental agency may only restrict commercial speech when the restriction directly advances an important governmental interest and where the restriction is not more extensive than necessary to serve that interest.  The Court found that the Prop 65 warning for glyphosate is misleading, and therefore does not directly advance the interest of the state in informing consumers regarding potential cancer hazards, and that the asserted state interest could be effectively advanced by other measures that do not burden freedom of speech in the same manner.

California argued that no Prop 65 warning would actually be required for glyphosate in practice because OEHHA has set a quantitative “safe harbor” level for glyphosate exposure, but the court found that this would not prevent parties other than California from bringing separate enforcement actions to enforce the listing.  Since a Prop 65 warning only needs to be “clear and reasonable,” California also proposed several alternative forms for a warning that would meet state requirements, but the court found these alternate warnings to all be misleading as well.  Based on all of these factors, the court decided to enjoin permanently the enforcement of Prop 65 warning requirements for glyphosate as an unconstitutional burden on commercial speech.

Commentary

Under FIFRA Section 24(b), no state may impose any labeling for a registered pesticide that differs from the labeling approved by EPA.  Although EPA has sometimes been willing to accommodate state labeling requirements or preferences within the labeling approved under FIFRA, there are necessary limits to this practice.  When label language sought by a state becomes misleading, approving it would also be expressly contrary to FIFRA.  How much precedential effect this decision may have with respect to other state requirements for labeling in the future is an issue that registrants should monitor closely. 


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, Lisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala

On August 7, 2019, EPA took long awaited action concerning the inclusion of Prop 65 warning statements for glyphosate on EPA registered pesticide labels, which will likely impact the broader ongoing debate over EPA approval of Prop 65 warnings on pesticide labels.  EPA’s August 7, 2019, letter to glyphosate registrants states that EPA “will no longer approve labeling that includes the Proposition 65 warning statement for glyphosate-containing products.”  EPA stated further that “[t]he warning statement must also be removed from all product labels where the only basis for the warning is glyphosate and from any materials considered labeling under FIFRA for those products.”   Moreover, EPA unequivocally states that “pesticide products bearing the Proposition 65 warning statement due to the presence of glyphosate are misbranded” under FIFRA Section 2(q)(1)(A).  Registrants with glyphosate products currently bearing Prop 65 warning language, where the exclusive basis for such warning is based on the presence of glyphosate, must submit draft amended labeling that removes this language by November 5, 2019.

By way of background, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) listed glyphosate as a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer on July 7, 2017.  OEHHA’s listing of glyphosate as a substance under Prop 65 is based on the International Agency on the Research for Cancer (IARC) classifying it as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”  EPA scientists subsequently completed an independent review of the available scientific data on the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate and do not agree with the IARC classification. Additional information regarding glyphosate is available at B&C’s blog.

Also of note is a February 26, 2018, preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of California, in response to a motion filed by a coalition including Monsanto, CropLife America, and several growers associations alleging that the IARC classification decision for glyphosate is contrary to the international scientific consensus, that the required Prop 65 warning would be misleading to the ordinary consumer, that compelling the manufacturers of glyphosate to provide such a warning would violate the First Amendment because the warning is not factual and uncontroversial, and that the applicable criteria for injunctive relief were met.  The February 26, injunction precluded OEHHA from enforcing its Prop 65 warning requirements against glyphosate registrants that otherwise would have taken effect on July 7, 2018.  The Court did not rule that glyphosate should be removed from the Prop 65 list as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, but did state that products containing glyphosate would not be required to comply with the warning requirements.  In issuing the preliminary injunction, the Court stated that the required warnings are “false and misleading” and that plaintiffs “have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim, are likely to suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction, and that the balance of equities and public interest favor an injunction, the court will grant plaintiffs’ request to enjoin [Prop 65]’s warning requirement for glyphosate.”  More information on that case is available at B&C’s blog.  That injunction has not been appealed and remains in place.

Although the glyphosate warning that EPA has refused to allow is based on OEHHA’s recent listing under Prop 65, Prop 65 warnings on pesticide labels generally have been a significant issue since 2016 when OEHHA issued revised regulations regarding the content and transmission of Prop 65 warnings.  As a result of these revisions, many registrants sought to add Prop 65 warning requirements to pesticide labels to meet Prop 65 requirements, but many registrants have not been able to obtain EPA approval for such warnings, resulting in much controversy and discussion.  More information regarding the changes to Prop 65 warning requirements also are available at B&C’s blog.

In its press release announcing its guidance to glyphosate registrants, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler states: “It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk. We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy.”  EPA states that its “independent evaluation of available scientific data included a more extensive and relevant dataset than IARC considered during its evaluation of glyphosate, from which the agency concluded that glyphosate is ‘not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.’”  Wheeler is further quoted as stating: “It is critical that federal regulatory agencies like EPA relay to consumers accurate, scientific based information about risks that pesticides may pose to them. EPA’s notification to glyphosate registrants is an important step to ensuring the information shared with the public on a federal pesticide label is correct and not misleading.”

OEHHA immediately released its own press release on August 13, 2019, in which it “objects to US EPA’s characterization of any warning concerning glyphosate’s carcinogenicity as a false claim.’”  After reiterating OEHHA’s listing glyphosate based on the IARC determination, OEHHA states that EPA’s position “conflicts with the determination made by IARC” and that “it is disrespectful of the scientific process for US EPA to categorically dismiss any warnings based on IARC’s determinations as false.”

Commentary

The Court’s February 26, 2018, preliminary injunction was considered a significant development both for glyphosate specifically and perhaps for Prop 65 warning requirements generally, especially considering the recent influx to EPA of label amendments seeking EPA approval of revised Prop 65 warning language to address OEHHA’s revised regulatory changes.  EPA’s guidance is equally significant, as EPA has now rejected the inclusion of a Prop 65 warning that EPA believes is misleading on a federal pesticide product label.

FIFRA Section 24(b) expressly prohibits any State from requiring any label language for a registered pesticide product beyond the labeling approved by EPA, and EPA has now declined to approve pesticide labeling that includes the Prop 65 warning for glyphosate. In some instances, EPA has been willing as a courtesy to approve labeling changes requested by a State, but the glyphosate determination demonstrates that EPA will not accept any label revisions that conflict materially with its own determinations.  Although glyphosate is a fairly complex and controversial case, it will be important for registrants to monitor the evolution of EPA’s standard for when it will or will not approve a Prop 65 warning on a federal label, since this issue has been the subject of considerable controversy over the past several years.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala

On February 26, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of California issued a memorandum and order on the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction (Order) to “enjoin the listing of glyphosate under Proposition 65 (Prop 65) and the application of its attendant warning requirement pending a final judgment in this case and set a schedule for expedited final resolution of the case.”  The Order (1) grants plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the warning requirement of California Health & Safety Code § 25249.6 as to glyphosate; and (2) denies the request for a preliminary injunction enjoining defendants from listing glyphosate as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer under California Health & Safety Code § 25249.8.  Specifically, the Order states: “pending final resolution of this action, defendants … are hereby ENJOINED from enforcing as against plaintiffs … California Health & Safety Code § 25249.6’s requirement that any person in the course of doing business provide a clear and reasonable warning before exposing any individual to glyphosate.”  Although this is only a preliminary injunction while the case continues further resolution, it is extremely significant that, for now, glyphosate will continue to be listed on California’s Prop 65 list as a “chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer,” but products containing glyphosate will not be required to comply with the warning requirement.

Plaintiffs’ memorandum supporting its motion for preliminary injunction states that Prop 65’s requirement for products containing glyphosate to include a warning that glyphosate is “known to the State of California to cause cancer” is unconstitutional under the First Amendment, and, if allowed to go into effect, will cause Plaintiffs’ “reputational, competitive, and economic harms for which they cannot be compensated.”  Plaintiffs state that the “legal merit of their First Amendment claim is indisputable and obvious on the face of the attached documents without any need for discovery, and thus the claim is appropriate for expedited judicial resolution.”  California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), the agency responsible for implementing Prop 65, listed glyphosate as a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer on July 7, 2017, and the attendant warning requirement would have taken effect on July 7, 2018.

In support of denying the request for a preliminary injunction enjoining defendants from listing glyphosate under Prop 65, the court states that plaintiffs “have not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the listing of glyphosate violates the First Amendment, because the listing is government speech, not private speech … [and it] is only the upcoming July 2018 deadline for providing the [Prop 65] warning that compels private speech.”  The court noted further that Plaintiffs “have not shown a likelihood of irreparable harm should the court fail to enjoin the listing of glyphosate, because any harm that plaintiffs might suffer is caused by the warning requirements of [Prop 65], rather than the listing itself.”  Accordingly, the court denied a preliminary injunction based on plaintiffs’ claim that the glyphosate listing violates the First Amendment.

On the other hand, in support of granting the request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the application of the attendant warning requirement, the court stated:

  • On the evidence before the court, the required warning for glyphosate does not appear to be factually accurate and uncontroversial because it conveys the message that glyphosate’s carcinogenicity is an undisputed fact, when almost all other regulators have concluded that there is insufficient evidence that glyphosate causes cancer.

The court also stated that the required warnings are “false and misleading” and that plaintiffs “have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim, are likely to suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction, and that the balance of equities and public interest favor an injunction, the court will grant plaintiffs’ request to enjoin [Prop 65]’s warning requirement for glyphosate.”

This case, while not the end of the story, is a very significant development both for glyphosate specifically and perhaps for Prop 65 warning requirements generally.  Industry should follow this case closely given the implications for glyphosate and potentially other Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)-regulated pesticides and chemicals generally.  Some in industry have long been concerned that Prop 65 warning requirements contradict conclusions supported by the data and reached by other agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  This decision is a huge preliminary win for those with these concerns and, depending on the ultimate outcome of the case, could provide a precedent for additional challenges related to other substances.  The potential reach of the case beyond glyphosate, however, will likely be dictated heavily by the facts of each case.