On May 13, an Oakland, CA jury delivered a $2 Billion verdict in favor of a couple who claimed that Roundup®, the popular weed-killer, caused their cancer. This marks the third straight Roundup trial loss for Bayer AG, the powerhouse German firm that acquired the pesticide’s producer, Monsanto, for $63 Billion in 2018.
This is by far the largest settlement of its kind. A $1 Billion figure for the verdict was suggested to the jury because it approximated the 2017 profits from Monsanto’s agrochemicals division, the corporate segment responsible for Roundup. In the end, jurors voted to slam Bayer with $1 Billion in damages for each of the 2 plaintiffs.
Just this past March, a San Francisco jury hit Bayer with $80 Million in damages for failing to warn a man who claimed his cancer was caused by Roundup. In August of 2018, another Bay Area jury ordered Bayer to pay $289 Million to a terminally-ill groundskeeper who used the powerful pesticide every day for decades.
More than 13,000 Roundup lawsuits still remain, and Bayer’s investors have been watching. By some estimates, the company has lost 44% of its value since taking over Monsanto.
At a shareholder meeting in April, Bayer execs faced an unprecedented rebuke from voting members about the merger. Outside the buildings, protestors released vapor clouds meant to symbolize pesticide and covered the sidewalks with 1000s of dead bees, signifying the severe consequences of pesticides on the health of the planet.
Roundup and the Glyphosate-Cancer Connection
In the latest case, an elderly couple argued that their cancer stemmed from decades-long use of Roundup. The man was diagnosed in 2011 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which had spread through his body. In 2015, it was discovered that his wife’s brain cancer was the exact same type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he had developed.
Like the thousands of other plaintiffs, they had never been warned that Roundup could cause cancer. Monsanto, however, knew about the risks their product posed. The jury saw a number of internal documents that showed the company had manipulated data in order to keep their harmful product on the market. While consumers were getting sick, they were profiting.
The controversial ingredient found in Roundup is known as glyphosate. When combined with other chemicals, as it is in Roundup, glyphosate can become extremely dangerous. Monsanto has worked extremely hard over the years to make it appear that the scientific community believed there was nothing wrong with glyphosate.
The truth is much more complex. One recent study found that people with exposure to glyphosate have a 41% increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Regulatory agencies, public health advocates, and scientists are not in total agreement over the issue, but one wonders how much of the “controversy” was created by Monsanto out of thin air.
After all, the key pillars of support for Monsanto’s claims that glyphosate is “safe” were written by none other than Monsanto itself.
‘Ghostwritten’ Documents Revealed Monsanto’s Efforts to Downplay Risks
Jurors in the Oakland case viewed company emails orchestrating deals for “ghostwritten” studies and opinions. Essentially, Monsanto would pay for the perspective it needed, and then make it appear as if the research was coming from an independent source.
A study of de-classified Monsanto documents published last year in the International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine concluded that:
“The use of third-party academics in the corporate defense of glyphosate reveals that this practice extends beyond the corruption of medicine and persists in spite of efforts to enforce transparency in industry manipulation.”
Monsanto is hardly the only company engaged this sort of dangerous manipulation. It is important to note that the Monsanto documents the researchers studied only came out in litigation. It is truly shocking what large companies can hide from the public for decades at a time.
Can Bayer Avoid Paying Up?
In a statement, Bayer said the company is “disappointed with the jury’s decision and will appeal the verdict in this case.” The company stands by the safety of its products and remains hopeful that the verdict will be overturned.
For its defense, Bayer cited a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finding, 40 years of “extensive scientific research,” and the “the consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely, and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.” All of this “strong” supporting evidence is really wishy-washy at best.
Despite the current EPA being one of the most business-friendly in recent history, Bayer’s appeal to the agency is hardly a silver bullet. The EPA finding that glyphosate was safe is a proposed interim decision, and the agency is taking public comments until July. Later this year, they will make an official ruling on the controversial pesticide ingredient.
When the dust settles, and all sides have spoken, how much of the “evidence” supporting the continued use of Roundup will be discovered to have been ghostwritten by Monsanto?
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