When Science Beats Political Science

In a victory for science and free speech, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld an injunction that prohibits California from mandating that products containing glyphosate bear a cancer warning label as stipulated by Proposition 65. This decision marks a significant moment in the ongoing discourse over the safety of glyphosate, a herbicide widely used in agriculture.

As one of the original plaintiffs challenging the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) requirement that glyphosate products carry the Prop. 65 warning, Western Plan Health is thankful that in this round of court battles, the courts allowed science to prevail over political science. 

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling is a landmark affirmation of the principle that government-compelled speech must be factual and non-controversial. This decision underscores the commitment to ensuring that warnings and labels, which carry significant implications for consumer perception and industry reputation, are not wielded as tools for political agendas. 

The court’s injunction rests on a comprehensive assessment of the scientific evidence regarding glyphosate’s safety, acknowledging the conclusions drawn by several leading regulatory and research institutions, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and regulatory bodies globally, which have determined that glyphosate is safe when used as directed.

This legal win is a testament to the relentless advocacy for science-based regulatory practices. In the original challenge, WPH and our coalition partners argued that the imposition of Prop. 65 warnings would force businesses to convey a message with which they fundamentally disagree, thereby infringing upon their First Amendment rights. The court’s ruling vindicates this stance, highlighting that the state’s requirement was not merely an overreach but a constitutional misstep.

The backdrop to this legal challenge was the 2015 classification by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which deemed glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” to humans—a position not widely supported by the scientific community. This classification prompted OEHHA to mandate Prop 65 warnings, which WPH and other plaintiffs successfully argued against, emphasizing the lack of consensus and the potential for misleading the public.

The Ninth Circuit Panel’s decision is an endorsement of the notion that regulatory actions must align with the robust consensus of scientific evidence. It sends a strong message that regulatory agencies must not disseminate information that could be construed as misleading or controversial without a solid scientific foundation. The court has, therefore, not only protected constitutional rights but also upheld the integrity of scientific discourse.


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