Monsanto may have lost in a California courtroom, but it’s still arguing in the court of public opinion.
The company, which manufactures pesticides such as RoundUp, is facing tough questions after a jury awarded damages to a man who says its products gave him cancer.
San Francisco jurors just ruled that Roundup, the most popular weedkiller in the world, gave a former school groundskeeper terminal cancer.
So they awarded him $289 million in damages — mostly to punish the agricultural company Monsanto.
Dewayne Johnson’s victory Friday could set a massive precedent for thousands of other cases claiming Monsanto’s famous herbicide causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Johnson’s case was the first to go to trial because doctors said he was near death. And in California, dying plaintiffs can be granted expedited trials.
The company faces more trials involving other plaintiffs.
Since then, hundreds more plaintiffs — including cancer patients, their spouses or their estates — have also sued Monsanto, making similar claims.
After three days of deliberations this week, the jury at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco awarded Johnson $250 million in punitive damages and about $39 million in compensatory damages.
The company disputes that its pesticide causes cancer; it shared a rebuttal via Twitter.
— Monsanto Company (@MonsantoCo) August 13, 2018
Scott Partridge, a vice president with Monsanto, penned a letter disputing the jury’s findings. It read, in part:
Like everyone else following the Dewayne Johnson v. Monsanto Co. trial, my colleagues and I have deep sympathy for Mr. Johnson’s plight. Our hearts go out to the Johnson family, and we understand their desire for answers.
Glyphosate is not the answer. Glyphosate does not cause cancer. The jury got it wrong. We will appeal the jury’s opinion and continue to vigorously defend glyphosate, which is an essential tool for farmers and others. We are confident science will prevail upon appeal.
The jury’s opinion does not change the science. Glyphosate has a more than 40-year history of safe use. Over those four decades, researchers have conducted more than 800 scientific studies and reviews that prove glyphosate does not cause cancer. The National Institutes of Health (NIH)and the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) both recently reaffirmed glyphosate does not cause cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulatory authorities in Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, Korea, and elsewhere routinely review all approved pesticide products and have consistently reaffirmed that glyphosate does not cause cancer.
Some agree with Monsanto’s assessment:
The scientific evidence that glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide) causes cancer is limited at best https://t.co/O8eLaz5jGO
— Erin Brodwin (@erbrod) August 15, 2018
The chemical is a major part of Monsanto’s business portfolio and extends far beyond consumer weedkiller products.
The reliance of the U.S. company — and now, its German acquirer — on Roundup extends far beyond just selling it as a weed killer. Monsanto genetically engineered the DNA of corn, soybeans and other crops to make them resistant to Roundup; it now makes more revenue from seeds and traits than it does from herbicide.
Roundup, introduced in 1974 and based on a chemical called glyphosate, has long been controversial. While it became the world’s most popular and widely used herbicide, the question of whether it causes cancer has been hotly debated by environmentalists, regulators, researchers and lawyers — even as Monsanto has insisted for decades that it’s perfectly safe.
More affected products
After the jury concluded that Monsanto’s product played a part in Johnson’s health problems, new reports discovered trace elements of the chemical, called glyphosphate, in several consumer products, many marketed to children.
Lab tests conducted by the left-leaning Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit advocacy group that specializes in toxic chemicals and corporate accountability, indicated almost three-fourths of the 45 food products tested detected high levels of glyphosate, which has been identified as a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization in 2015.
But makers of the foods EWG tested said they and their suppliers operate within U.S. government safety guidelines and dismissed the group’s findings as irrelevant.
Popular children items, including General Mills’ Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal, Lucky Charm’s, Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran and Quaker’s Old Fashioned Oats, all had levels exceeding EWG’s safety guidelines.
The manufactures of the food products defended their safety procedures, pointing to regulatory limits that they say they meet.
Fox Business continued:
In a statement to FOX Business regarding the report, a General Mills’ spokesperson says, “Our products are safe and without questions they meet regulatory safety levels.”
“The EPA has researched this issue and has set rules that we follow as do farmers who grow crops including wheat and oats. We continue to work closely with farmers, our suppliers and conservation organizations to minimize the use of pesticides on the crops and ingredients we use in our foods,” General Mills added.
However, meeting government standards might not be enough to escape public backlash. Of note, the jury that found Monsanto guilty wasn’t swayed by arguments that the EPA and other watchdogs found no health risks posed by glyphosphates.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. What’s the takeaway here for you as someone who’s reported on this industry, on these issues for so long?
CHARLES: What I find most interesting is the fact that the jury did not believe or give credibility to the sort of the official institutions that are responsible for evaluating safety of a chemical. It didn’t matter what the EPA says, the Environmental Protection Agency or the European Food Safety Agency (ph). The plaintiffs basically said the government is too cozy—the regulators are too cozy with the companies. And that was convincing to the jury.
Many are worried about the implications of the high concentrations, no matter what cause and effect might be proven.
“I was shocked,” said Dr. Jennifer Lowry, who heads the Council on Environmental Health for the American Academy of Pediatrics and is a toxicologist at Children’s Mercy Kansas City.
“We don’t know a lot about the effects of glyphosate on children,” Lowry said. “And essentially we’re just throwing it at them.”
Risk to the bottom line
The lawsuits have caused a problem for Bayer, which was hoping to acquire Monsanto—while leaving the company’s troubled past behind.
Shares in Bayer fell 4.2 percent Wednesday, extending this week’s plunge to 18 percent as the company’s stock trades at its lowest level in more than five years.
Traders cited a report by a German weekly on more lawsuits brought by U.S. farmers over crop damage from weed killer dicamba.
With the companies nearing completion of their marathon merger process, significant developments are unfolding in lawsuits facing two of Monsanto’s top weedkilling products — and soon to be inherited by Bayer.
What do you think of Monsanto’s crisis response?