Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller hit with another US verdict

A federal jury in California found the chemical was a substantial factor in the cancer developed by a 70-year-old man although the company, owned by Bayer, will appeal and says it expects to win

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Wednesday 20 March 2019 13:54 GMT
Roundup weed killer photographed on a shelf at a Los Angeles hardware store
Roundup weed killer photographed on a shelf at a Los Angeles hardware store (AP)

Bad news for Bayer. A federal jury in California has delivered a second verdict against the herbicide Roundup, a key product for Monsanto, the US biotech company the Germain chemical giant spent $66bn (£50bn) on acquiring.

Edwin Hardeman, a 70-year-old from Santa Rosa suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer, said he had used the chemical to control weeds at his properties from 1986 onwards and had sprayed it on his hands.

A jury agreed that it was a substantial factor behind his development of the condition. Its next job is to consider liability and damages.

The ruling follows the historic verdict won in a state court last August by Dewayne Johnson, a former janitor. His jury found Monsanto had failed to warn him of Roundup’s health hazards and “acted with malice or oppression”. He was awarded $289m in damages.

It should be stated at this point that Monsanto, and Bayer, continue to argue that the product is safe and does not cause cancer. The company will appeal and says it expects to prevail.

I imagine Bayer will throw everything it can at ensuring that it does. It made a very big investment in Monsanto, which is heavily invested in Roundup. The weedkiller, one of the world’s most widely used agro-chemicals, is off patent, but it is still highly profitable, and the sale of seeds that are resistant to it even more so.

However, it increasingly finds itself under attack.

Last November I reported on an investigation I conducted into what I argued were the questionable tactics that have been deployed in an attempt to buoy support for Roundup, the trade name for Glyphosate, across Europe.

The EU still views it as safe. So does the UK. But the French Government of Emmanuel Macron has talked about a ban and the World Health Organisation has the chemical listed as a “probable cause of cancer”.

If you’re getting the feeling of deja vu when you read this, think about the way tobacco litigation was pursued, the tactics used by tobacco companies in defence of their product, and the multi billion dollar payouts that were the end result.

Thousands of cases targeting glyphosate have been filed in the US. It would only take one or two to exhaust all the appeals processes and end up in favour of a plaintiff for the floodgates to open.

As for regulators, and their political masters, on this side of the pond, they really ought to pay more attention to what’s going on. They could easily end up getting caught in the backwash.

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