Bayer has come up zero for 3 in the first lawsuits alleging that Roundup herbicide caused cancer, with the latest verdict ordering the chemical giant to pay $2 billion to its victims.
The verdict came from the third case, heard before the Alameda County Superior Court of California, in which a married couple, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, claim they both developed Non-Hodgkin lymphoma after regular use of Roundup. The pair had been using Roundup since the 1970s, stopping only a few years ago.
The jury heard 17 days of testimony and deliberated for less than two days before deciding in the Pilliods’ favor. Bayer, which is the largest seed and pesticide company in the world due to its $63 billion purchase of Monsanto in 2018, must now pay $2 billion in punitive and compensatory damages.
Bayer to Pay $2 Billion, Guilty of ‘Malice, Oppression or Fraud’
The guilty verdict against Bayer includes a $1 billion payout to Alberta, who developed Non-Hodgkin lymphoma brain cancer in 2015. Another $1 billion is owed to Alva, who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which has spread from his bones to his spine and pelvis, in 2011. A total of $55 million in damages was awarded for past and future medical bills and pain and suffering.1
In order to award punitive damages, U.S. Right to Know reported, “The jury had to find that Monsanto ‘engaged in conduct with malice, oppression or fraud committed by one or more officers, directors or managing agents of Monsanto’ who were acting on behalf of the company.”2
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Brent Wisner, also stated, “From day one, Monsanto has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe.”3 Wisner based his request for punitive damages on the $892 million in gross profits Monsanto reported in 2017, and this was just from its agricultural chemicals division.
Bayer plans to appeal the verdict, and the damages may ultimately be reduced, as it’s generally upheld that punitive damages shouldn’t be more than 10 times higher than compensatory damages. Still, the $2 billion verdict sent a shockwave through the system.
Bayer shares have fallen about 45 percent since the Monsanto purchase, and dropped as much as 5% when the third verdict was announced.4,5 Now, with at least 13,400 lawsuits still looming from people who claim exposure to their glyphosate-containing Roundup herbicide caused them health problems, including cancer, the likelihood of a settlement grows stronger.
Some analysts have suggested settlement costs could exceed $14.6 billion, and while the company, according to Moody’s, may be able to absorb payments of $5.6 billion, if costs reach $22.4 billion it could be a blow to their credit rating.6
Bayer Lawyers Complained About Celebrities at Trial
During the third trial, the plaintiffs’ lawyers presented evidence including internal emails and advertising that showed Monsanto’s lack of regard for safety. One such advertisement showed a man killing backyard weeds while wearing shorts and a T-shirt to the tune of an Old West film, while Monsanto studies have recommended the chemical only be applied while wearing chemical boots and overalls.7
Internal Monsanto emails, meanwhile, mentioned ghostwriting scientific papers and payments to front groups, such as the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), to promote glyphosate’s safety.
Bayer attorneys, while maintaining that Roundup is safe, tried another tactic: distraction. They brought up completely unrelated “concerns” in front of jurors, like the fact that the plaintiffs’ attorneys had posed for a photo with environmental activists Daryl Hannah and Neil Young.8
The trials have revealed disturbing evidence against the chemical giant, including the fact that Monsanto allocated about $17 million in one year to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) scientists who spoke out against glyphosate.9
In March 2015, IARC determined glyphosate to be a “probable carcinogen” based on evidence showing the popular weed-killing chemical can cause Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with “convincing evidence” it can also cause cancer in animals.
For instance, in 2017, Henry Miller was thoroughly outed as a Monsanto shill during the 2012 Proposition 37 GMO labeling campaign in California. Miller, falsely posing as a Stanford professor, promoted genetically engineered foods during this campaign.
In 2015, he published a paper in Forbes Magazine attacking IARC’s findings after it classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. Later it was revealed that Miller’s work was in fact ghostwritten by Monsanto.
Two Prior Roundup Lawsuits Led to Similar Payouts
In August 2018, a jury ruled in favor of plaintiff Dewayne Johnson in a truly historic case against Monsanto. Johnson — the first of the cases pending against the chemical company — claimed Roundup caused his Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and the court agreed.
Monsanto was ordered to pay $289 million in damages to Johnson, although the award was later reduced to $78 million. Bayer asked the court to throw out the judgment in April 2019, going so far as to ask for reversal of the damages awarded based on the fact that Johnson is near death.10
In a second case, a judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff, ordering Bayer to pay more than $80 million. The jury agreed that Edwin Hardeman’s repeated exposures to Roundup, which he used to kill weeds on his 56-acre property, not only played a role in his cancer diagnosis but also that the company did not warn consumers that the product carried a cancer risk.11
The case was split into two phases, with jurors first finding the chemical to have caused the cancer on purely scientific grounds and the next phase finding that Bayer is liable for damages.12 Ultimately, Hardeman was awarded $75 million in punitive damages, $5.6 million in compensatory damages and $200,000 for medical expenses.13
The Government Has Bayer’s Back
In the midst of Bayer facing billions in damages due to glyphosate causing cancer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in their latest review of glyphosate, released a draft conclusion stating the chemical poses potential risks to mammals and birds that eat treated leaves, as well as risks to plants,14 but “no risks of concern” for people and “is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”15
It’s not surprising, considering the EPA’s history of siding with and protecting Monsanto. As far back as 1983, when a Monsanto study revealed an increased cancer risk in mice exposed to glyphosate, the EPA asked for further studies, but the company simply refused. They claimed the study wasn’t a concern because one mouse not exposed to glyphosate also developed a tumor, and used this to support its safety.
Johnson’s lawyer, Timothy Litzenburg, told Rolling Stone, “They fought over that one mouse’s kidney for years, spent millions of dollars on experts, instead of just doing the test again. The EPA even offered a compromise — let’s just do a kidney and liver test. Monsanto said ‘no.’ It’s amazing how often they’re able to say no to the EPA.”16
In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, and Carey Gillam, an investigative journalist, ask the question we all should be asking:17
“Precisely because the chemical has been treated as so much safer than other pesticides, over the past 45 years glyphosate has become virtually ubiquitous: residues of the chemical have been documented in food, air, water and soil samples, as well as within the bodies of people who have never used the pesticide. The chemical has even been detected in raindrops.
It all raises this troubling question: if what has been touted as perhaps our ‘safest’ widely used pesticide actually causes cancer, what assurance do we have about the hundreds of other pesticides that the EPA has assured us are safe?”
Bayer’s Shareholders Are Outraged
At Bayer’s annual general meeting in Bonn, Germany, 55.5% of shareholders voted against ratifying the management’s actions, in large part due to the Monsanto acquisition.18 Some are calling the takeover “disastrous,”19 and investors had complained that Bayer was not revealing enough about its strategy for defeating upcoming lawsuits.
The vote was symbolic in nature and won’t legally change anything, but highlights the growing unrest within the company, which will only be heightened with the latest $2 billion verdict.
According to Bloomberg, “Markus Mayer, an analyst at Baader Bank AG, said the ruling increases the probability that Bayer becomes vulnerable to a takeover or a target for more activist investors like Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp. pushing for a split between agriculture and health assets.”20
Bayer was even caught making a hit list after French media raised accusations about Monsanto’s 2016 “stakeholder mapping project.” Monsanto had compiled lists of supportive and critical stakeholders, which may have violated both ethical principles and legal regulations. In a bit of damage control, Bayer posted the following:21
“Following an initial review, we understand that this initiative has raised concerns and criticism. This is not the way Bayer seeks dialogue with society and stakeholders. We apologize for this behavior.
Currently, we have no indication that the preparation of the lists under discussion violated any legal provisions. Bayer will ask an external law firm to investigate the project Monsanto commissioned and evaluate the allegations.
The law firm will also inform all of the persons on the lists of the information collected about them. Bayer will fully support the public prosecutor’s office in France in its investigations.”
Glyphosate Is Still Being Sprayed With Abandon
Nearly 300 million pounds of glyphosate are used in the U.S. each year, with usage being heaviest in the Midwest due to extensive production of genetically engineered (GE) corn and soy. In fact, more than 90 percent of corn and soy grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered, and these ingredients are common in processed foods.22
The chemical was detected in more than 90 percent of pregnant women tested living in Central Indiana, and levels of the chemical were associated with shortened pregnancy lengths.23 Aside from cancer, in 2017, separate research revealed that daily exposure to ultra-low levels of glyphosate for two years led to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in rats.24
What’s more, glyphosate is in fact patented as an antibiotic, and when broken down, the word antibiotic means “anti-life.” In addition to promoting antibiotic resistance by priming pathogens to more readily become resistant to antibiotics,25 Roundup causes disturbances to a soil fungus called Aspergillus nidulans26 and may be causing serious damage to non-target plants.
Glyphosate is also a popular tool for desiccating (or accelerating the drying out) crops like wheat and oats. In testing done by Friends of the Earth (FOE), 100 percent of oat cereal samples tested positive for residues of glyphosate.27 If you want to avoid this chemical as much as possible, choose organic or biodynamic foods, and install a filter on your drinking water.
If you’re curious how much glyphosate is in your body, the Health Research Institute (HRI) in Iowa developed the glyphosate urine test kit, which will allow you to determine your own exposure to this toxic herbicide.
Ordering this kit automatically allows you to participate in the study and help HRI better understand the extent of glyphosate exposure and contamination. In a few weeks, you will receive your results, along with information on how your results compare with others and what to do to help reduce your exposure. We are providing these kits to you at no profit in order for you to participate in this environmental study.