Into the Weeds: Dewayne ‘Lee’ Johnson vs. Monsanto Company

The powerful story of a former Bay Area groundskeeper who took on Monsanto after a terminal cancer diagnosis.
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson

Available on CBC Gem

Into the Weeds: Dewayne ‘Lee’ Johnson vs. Monsanto Company

The Passionate Eye

Into the Weeds: Dewayne “Lee” Johnson vs. Monsanto Company follows former groundskeeper Johnson and his fight against Monsanto, a multinational agrochemical corporation acquired by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer in 2018.

Johnson’s case was the first to go to trial in a series of lawsuits involving tens of thousands of plaintiffs who claim that Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup (and its other glyphosate-based herbicide Ranger Pro) caused their cancer. Bayer maintains that it’s safe to use.

The documentary follows the groundbreaking trial, including the release of the Monsanto Papers — internal documents which reveal that, for decades, Monsanto had been influencing studies about glyphosate’s potential to cause cancer.

The film introduces other plaintiffs whose lives have been upended by their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnoses, while also looking into the widespread and systemic effects of the world’s most widely used herbicide.

Hundreds of millions of kilograms of glyphosate are used in agriculture every year and residue has been detected in a wide variety of food products. Glyphosate is also used on parks, golf courses, railway lines, hydro corridors, cemeteries and forests. In Into the Weeds, scientists consider the systemic effects of such pervasive use and the impact on ecosystems and biodiversity. Ray Owl — a Traditional Ecological Knowledge elder from the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation, about 100 kilometres west of Sudbury, Ont. — shares how he’s fighting to stop the aerial spraying of glyphosate on the numerous tree-planting operations within traditional territories on the north shore of Lake Huron.

The verdict in Johnson’s case will have repercussions. A ruling in his favour would set a precedent for future trials and could mean Bayer will have to compensate thousands of other claimants.

In telling Johnson’s story, Into the Weeds asks whether this kind of David versus Goliath fight can effect substantial and lasting change.