By John Burnett | Hawaii Tribune-Herald

HILO — A husband and wife who operated a South Kona coffee farm are suing Monsanto Co., alleging the agricultural biotechnology corporation purposely downplayed carcinogenic properties of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, and are responsible for the woman’s cancer.

The Miller Firm of Orange, Virginia, and Honolulu attorney Brian K. Mackintosh filed the civil suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Honolulu on behalf of Christine and Kenneth Sheppard, former owners of Dragon’s Lair Kona Coffee Farm in Honaunau.

The suit alleges Christine Sheppard, who once was president of the Kona Coffee Council, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2003, after eight years of using Roundup on the farm, and that the Sheppards were forced to sell the farm and relocate to California in 2004 “where she continues to undergo treatment and surveillance for her lymphoma.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages, including compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and court costs.

Attorney Michael Miller accused Monsanto of a “misinformation campaign” and said the Sheppards’ lawsuit will “force Monsanto to face the human consequences of their lies.”

“She’s been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a very serious form of cancer that’s gone to stage four,” Miller said. “She’s had enormous treatment and now is in remission, but is in fear of it coming back. So we’re seeking a fair amount of damages — her medical expenses, her pain, her suffering and her mental anguish. And we’ll ask a jury to put a number on that at an appropriate time.”

The suit comes a week after Monsanto filed a lawsuit in California seeking to prevent that state from adding glyphosate to its list of known carcinogens. The state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced in September that it planned to add glyphosate to the list after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it as a probable human carcinogen last March.

Monsanto maintains Roundup is safe to use.

“While we are sympathetic to anyone suffering an illness, these claims regarding glyphosate are baseless and without merit, and we will defend against (the Sheppards’) suit vigorously,” Monsanto said in a statement Wednesday. “Glyphosate has a 40-year history of safe use, and based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, regulatory agencies around the world have concluded that glyphosate can be used safely according to label instructions. No regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate to be a carcinogen.”

The suit claims Monsanto “knew or had reason to know that its Roundup products were defective and were inherently dangerous and unsafe when used in the manner instructed and provided by defendant.”

Miller said the Sheppards, who are originally from England, had a dream of owning a coffee farm and achieved it, but “the dream had to die.”

Originally Published: West Hawaii Today