Bayer Loses Third Monsanto Roundup Case
California couple to receive $55 million in compensatory damages and $2 billion in punitive damages
Bayer is reeling from its third consecutive loss in a US court case involving Monsanto’s controversial glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. Since the $63 billion takeover of the US agribusiness giant was sealed in summer 2018, the German group has forfeited around 40% of its stock market value.
On learning of the latest verdict, some analysts repeated the mantra that yet another setback would enhance Bayer’s chances of becoming a takeover candidate, while others stood firm that the risk of ruinous penalties would scare predators away
In the judgment announced on May 13, US Pacific time, the Oakland, California, state court awarded damages that crossed the million-to-billion dollar threshold for the first time in the ongoing Roundup litigation. As in earlier trials, the jurors concluded that Monsanto failed to warn customers about the potential health hazards of the active ingredient.
Along with $2 billion in punitive damages, the California couple Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who said they had sprayed the weed killer in their private garden for decades, received $55 million in compensatory damages. The husband and wife, both in their 70s, have both been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which they blame on Roundup.
Bayer immediately appealed the verdict, as it did two earlier judgments, both in California. One awarded damages of $289 million (later reduced by a judge to $78 million), the other $80 million. The juries have identified Roundup as a major factor in the plaintiffs’ illness.
In its own defense, the Leverkusen-based agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals group said again this week that glyphosate-based products can be used safely, and that the Roundup active ingredient is not carcinogenic. There is no reliable scientific evidence to conclude that the herbicide actually caused the cancer as the jury was required to find, it added.
US environmental agency again clears glyphosate
The Oakland jury’s May 13 conclusion contrasted sharply with a statement published by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in late April that some thought would let the herbicide off the hook.
Brushing aside concerns voiced by NGOs in public comments on the EPA’s position, the agency reiterated its stance that that glyphosate is not a carcinogen, noting that this is in line with the findings of several international reviews.
The EPA in particular took issue with the World Health Organization’s IARC subgroup, which concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The environmental watchdog – which has come in for criticism since it has been run by appointees of US president Donald Trump – asserted that its analysis was “more robust” than IARC’s, as it evaluated 15 animal studies to IARC ‘s eight.
In a statement supporting the EPA, US agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue repeated an argument often used by the agrochemicals industry: “If we are going to feed 10 billion people by 2050, we are going to need all the tools at our disposal, which includes the use the glyphosate.”
In its own comment, the advocacy group US Center for Biological Diversity said the EPA had reached “an industry-friendly conclusion that is simply not based on the best available science.” Some biologists now believe that alongside neonics, there is evidence that glyphosate may also harm bees.
The question of what science says about glyphosate has been at the heart of Bayer’s argumentation throughout the Roundup trials.
Many financial analysts watching the proceedings agreed with Bayer that its chances of its winning a case will improve in the higher instances, where verdicts are pronounced by appointed judges, without juries.
Analysts also have tried to anticipate what the group could end up paying as the more than 13,000 outstanding lawsuits are heard or if it decided to settle with plaintiffs out of court – a move it has tried to avoid up to now. One analysis concluded that it was facing $6-10 billion.
In April, US district judge Vince Chhabria, who heard the up to now only Roundup case in federal court, suspended immediately pending trials and ordered Bayer and the plaintiffs to participate in confidential mediation. If the parties did not propose a mediator by May 22, Chhabria said he would appoint one.
Monsanto practices scrutinzed in French criminal probe
Alongside its US troubles, Bayer has now become embroiled in a French criminal investigation of reports that Monsanto and a public relations firm compiled a file detailing the attitudes of some 200 French personalities toward glyphosate. If the data included sensitive personal information not publicly available, the list might breach EU data privacy laws, reports from France said.
Recently appointed head of public affairs and sustainability at Bayer, Matthias Berninger – a former member of the German Green party – acknowledged that Monsanto might have stepped over a line with its data collection.
Bayer has hired an external law firm to conduct its own investigation into the Monsanto practices and said it is fully cooperating with French authorities. The newspaper Le Monde meanwhile is said to have filed a complaint after gaining access to the list that may have included some of its own journalists as well as researchers and lawmakers.