TRAVERSE CITY — Thousands of U.S. lawsuits against a German chemical giant — and more than $150 million in jury awards — have two area men cautioning deer hunters against using a popular weedkiller on food plots.
“I tell my clients I don’t use it,” said Andrew Milliron, about the chemical “glysophate,” sold under various brand names including Roundup. “If that’s what they wanted, I’m not sure I’d be able to work with them.”
Milliron, a land management consultant and local contact for the Quality Deer Management Association, is a hunter himself, and said he’s concerned about chemical groundwater contamination and cancer.
“I’ve seen the ads on TV about the lawsuits and it just doesn’t seem like something that kills everything it touches could be good for people.”
Tim Smith, an attorney with Smith and Johnson — and a deer hunter — has never met Milliron but said his logic is sound.
“At this point, what I know now from the litigation, I don’t think (Roundup) should be used in any residential or recreational capacity at all,” Smith said.
“The early cases were people working in agriculture or landscaping and there was an assumption you had to be using this product every day in order for it to cause cancer. That assumption was wrong.”
One of Smith’s clients is an unnamed deer hunter who lives downstate, annually used Roundup in a backpack sprayer on his hunting land north of Clare, and was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The client “100 percent” used the weed killer according to package instructions, Smith said, and he’s waiting on medical records before filing.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a group of cancers in the lymphatic system, and manifests in tumors developing from white blood cells, said Dr. Zachery Word, section chief of oncology and hematology at Munson Medical Center.
Word said there is no test to learn how a patient came to have a particular cancer, “we just know from epidemiological studies that people who have more exposure to agricultural chemicals have a higher incidence of cancer.”
Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, drenching night sweats, unexplained fevers and dramatic weight loss. About two-thirds of those diagnosed with the disease survive, with a 4-month course of chemotherapy, Word said.
For additional clients — not all hunters — with varying exposures, Smith is now participating in a multi-district litigation against Bayer AG, the German chemical company best known for inventing aspirin in the 1890s. Bayer AG acquired St. Louis-based Monsanto, manufacturer of Roundup, in June 2018.
Multi-district litigation refers to a legal procedure to speed the process of complex product liability lawsuits.
Glysophate is a legal broadleaf herbicide available in a variety of products besides Roundup that are used for weed and grass control and are widely available at many area retailers.
McGough’s, a lawn, garden, and animal feed store on Lake Avenue, does not stock Roundup but does stock other products which contain glysophate, said manager Lindsey Lampton.
“We stopped selling Roundup prior to the lawsuits becoming big news,” Lampton said. “There is a lot of information out there and it’s a matter of sifting through the information and finding out what is valid. Right now it would be our position to use any herbicide judiciously. To follow the directions. To minimize its use.”
The Quality Deer Management Association is a national membership organization advocating safe hunting and good land stewardship, and Milliron, a member, said he uses some of their suggested techniques for his clients. Those include habitat improvement, planting cover crops for food plots and allowing smaller bucks to mature before harvesting.
But QDMA’s website includes several articles about the use of glysophate as the best way to eradicate weeds, and Milliron said he has never used the chemical in his business.
The idea of a food plot is to seed an open area with plants deer will eat, such as corn, clover, soybeans or sugar beets, and to remove weeds before planting.
“Personally, I prefer to mow existing vegetation in a plot, spray with glyphosate to kill remaining weeds, and plant directly into the dead crop stubble,” reads a 2018 QDMA article, Green Fields: 10 Ways to Grow Low-Impact Food Plots. “If weeds are scattered, use spot-spraying with a backpack sprayer, which uses less herbicide than applying to the entire field.”
Use of a backpack sprayer is exactly how Smith said his client dispersed the chemical.
“This is very concerning to me because as a hunter myself, I do the same thing. Or, did,” said Smith. “The relatively low amount of exposure was a head-turner for me.”
Smith said since 1976 he has hunted on property east of Grayling that he shares with more than a dozen other hunters. They incorporated many QDMA techniques, including clearing an area of weeds to grow a food plot.
It worked. In 2018, Smith got a 9-point.
Did he spray Roundup?
“Sure did. But I sent my buddies what I’ve learned and I told them we have to stop. There’s just too much risk.”
Smith said his hunting friends agreed. They’ll still plant food plots, but won’t be using glyphosate first.