The case, a rare example of a lawsuit by private citizens against the Chinese government, comes amid renewed attention on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, after a controversial report by a World Health Organization group last month found it to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” – a claim denied by Monsanto.
It also underlines the deep-seated fears held by some Chinese over genetically modified food.
Roundup is widely used on crops like soybeans that are genetically modified to resist its impact, allowing farmers to kill weeds without killing their crops. China imports about 65 percent of the world’s traded soybeans.
“The government is taking actions to deal with other food safety issues but it is not dealing with the GMO problem,” said Yang Xiaolu, 62, one of the plaintiffs bringing the case and a long-time GMO activist.
Monsanto officials have said glyphosate has been proven safe for decades, and the company has demanded a retraction from the WHO over its recent report.
Yang and the other plaintiffs, Li Xiangzhen and Tian Xiangping, are demanding in the lawsuit that the agriculture ministry make public the animal test that the ministry cited as evidence to support its approval of Roundup in 1988.
The test report by U.S.-based Younger Laboratories in 1985 was provided by Monsanto to the ministry, according to the plaintiffs, who argue that the ministry should allow the public to know how it determined that Roundup was safe.
The ministry has previously declined to show the plaintiffs the report, arguing that it would infringe on Monsanto’s commercial secrets, said Yang.
The agriculture ministry did not respond to a fax seeking comment.
The lawsuit comes at a time when the government is trying to foster positive public opinion of GMO food crops, currently banned for cultivation, but seen as crucial to future food security.