THE AMERICAN legal system is very different, and nowhere is that more obvious than when it comes to juries deciding punitive damages.

These are often as much about making a statement as they are about delivering a legal settlement. The decisions however send out a powerful statement about what the jurors think of the business being punished. The fact that these are normally well diluted on appeal is not the point. They are about sending out a signal and how you view that signal depends on how you view the case. This is perhaps the point of allowing a jury to set damages.

The decision to award £200 million plus against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, over glyphosate has become a global story. In the UK we have major retailers questioning whether they will continue to sell Roundup based products. None of this will do the plaintiff in this case any good, because sadly with his cancer he will be dead long before it is finally settled.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the case, and whether or not his illness came from glyphosate, 46 year old groundsman, Dewayne Johnson, deserves sympathy. Hopefully the smaller compensatory element in his claim can be paid, at least in part, while the case continues, so that he may be able to leave something behind for his family.

The human side of the case aside, this has opened a can of worms for the global agricultural industry. To date the focus has been on domestic and local authority uses of Roundup, but it will not be a big leap from that to agriculture. For farmers it is a key product with no realistic alternative. Its loss or tougher controls would be devastating for arable farmers.

The product is already in some difficulty in Europe. The European Commission failed to secure agreement to extend the product licence for the normal 15 years. Instead that was reduced to just five, meaning that even before this case, the campaign to secure a ban in Europe was already being ramped up again. That process has been given a huge boost by the American case.

As a personal initiative by its president, Emanuel Macron, France is already making plans for a national ban on glyphosate. It has said it is seeking a coalition in Europe to bolster its argument for a ban on the product, with sights set on the licence not being renewed in 2022. Germany is poised to support that call.

Regardless of the US case, this would be flying in the face of science and advice from the European Food Safety Authority and European Chemicals Agency. Both cleared glyphosate for the Commission. However it is a well established fact that arguments based around emotion and what people believe to be true are not easily defeated by science. Prime examples in agriculture include hormone growth promoters and genetic modification. It would be a brave person that would bet against tough controls on domestic and local authority use of glyphosate; it would also be a rash bet to assume that a campaign against use on arable crops for food production will fail.

The scientific arguments in favour of glyphosate are strong. There have been 800 plus studies on its safety; we know you would have to eat acres of crops each day treated with the product to have any exposure. However where there is a seed of doubt it grows, and it has certainly been well fertilised by that American court decision.

There will now almost certainly be calls for the Commission to re-visit the licensing decision. The slim majority vote in favour of the product may be harder to secure if there is another review. This will also be be a big and unexpected test of UK post-Brexit policy, when it will have to stand alone

and make product approval decisions. This could become environmental versus farming lobbies, and it is not difficult to see which has the greatest influence at Westminster.

The European parliament already wants EFSA to take account of more than science; its latest green light over pesticide residue levels has been challenged, because it did not look at total rather than individual chemical residues.

The drive is always for the precautionary principle to trump science in European decision making. This will strengthen that case. That makes it hard to see any upside for regulators, the agrochemical industry or farmers.