SHARE
COPY LINK

MONSANTO

Monsanto’s German owners call weed killer ‘non-cancerous’ after jury orders big payout

Monsanto's German owners insisted Saturday that the weed killer Roundup was "safe", rejecting a California jury's decision to order the chemical giant to pay nearly $290 million for failing to warn a dying groundskeeper that the product might cause cancer.

Monsanto's German owners call weed killer 'non-cancerous' after jury orders big payout
Plaintiff Dewayne Johnson reacts after hearing the verdict to his case against Monsanto at the Superior Court Of California. Photo: AFP

As observers predicted thousands more future claims against the company in the wake of Monsanto's defeat, Bayer — which recently acquired the US giant — said the California ruling went against scientific evidence.

“On the basis of scientific conclusions, the views of worldwide regulatory authorities and the decades-long practical experience with glyphosate use Bayer is convinced that glyphosate is safe and does not cause cancer,” the company said in a statement.

It said other future court proceedings with other juries could “arrive at different conclusions” than the California jury which on Friday ordered chemical giant Monsanto to pay out in the lawsuit, the first to accuse glyphosate of causing cancer.

Jurors unanimously found that Monsanto — which vowed to appeal — acted with “malice” and that its weed killers Roundup and the professional grade version RangerPro contributed “substantially” to Dewayne Johnson's terminal illness.

Following eight weeks of trial proceedings, the San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay $250 million in punitive damages along with compensatory damages and other costs, bringing the total figure to nearly $290 million.

Johnson, diagnosed in 2014 with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma — a cancer that affects white blood cells — says he repeatedly used a professional form of Roundup while working at a school in Benicia, California.

“I want to thank everybody on the jury from the bottom of my heart,” Johnson, 46, said after the verdict.

“I am glad to be here; the cause is way bigger than me. Hopefully this thing will get the attention it needs.”

Johnson, who appeared to fight back sobs while the verdict was read, wept openly, as did some jurors, when he met with the panel afterwards.

The lawsuit built on 2015 findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the UN World Health Organization, which classified Roundup's main ingredient glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, causing the state of California to follow suit.

Monsanto vice president Scott Partridge was unimpressed with the results. “The jury got it wrong,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.

“We are sympathetic to Mr Johnson and his family,” Monsanto said in a statement, but promised to appeal the ruling and “continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective and safe tool for farmers and others.”

Johnson's attorney Brent Wisner said the verdict “shows the evidence is overwhelming” that the product poses danger.

“When you are right, it is really easy to win,” he said.

– More to come? –

Wisner called the ruling the “tip of the spear” of litigation likely to come.

“The jury sent a message to the Monsanto boardroom that they have to change the way they do business,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr — an environmental lawyer, son of the late US senator and a member of Johnson's legal team.

Partridge said that Monsanto had no intention of settling the slew of similar cases in the legal queue, saying if anything the company would work harder to demonstrate the weed killer is safe.

“It is the most widely used and most widely studied herbicide in the world,” Partridge said.

Johnson's team expressed confidence in the verdict, saying the judge in the case kept out a mountain of more evidence backing their position.

“All the efforts by Monsanto to put their finger in the dike and hold back the science; the science is now too persuasive,” Kennedy said, pointing to “cascading” scientific evidence about the health dangers of Roundup.

“You not only see many people injured, you see the corruption of public officials, the capture of agencies that are supposed to protect us from pollution and the falsification of science,” Kennedy said.

'Win for all of humanity' 

Roundup is Monsanto's leading product.

“The Johnson vs Monsanto verdict is a win for all of humanity and all life on earth,” said Zen Honeycutt, founding executive director of non-profit group Moms Across America.

Records unsealed earlier by a federal court lent credence to Johnson's claims — internal company emails with regulators suggested Monsanto had ghostwritten research later attributed to academics.

Founded in 1901 in St Louis, Missouri, Monsanto began producing agrochemicals in the 1940s. It was acquired by Bayer for more than $62 billion in June.

Monsanto launched Roundup in 1976 and soon thereafter began genetically modifying plants, making some resistant to Roundup.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

MONSANTO

Bayer shareholders vote against board over Monsanto deal

Bayer chief executive Werner Baumann was dealt a blow on Friday at the German chemical giant's annual general meeting, amid tensions over last year's decision to buy US seeds and pesticides maker Monsanto, as disgruntled shareholders voted against management.

Bayer shareholders vote against board over Monsanto deal
Werner Baumann, chief executive of Bayer, speaks to shareholders on Friday. Photo: Guido Kirchner/dpa
At the AGM in Bonn, 55.5 percent voted against the management board, led by embattled CEO Werner Baumann, with just 44.5 percent of shareholders in favour – a huge drop down from 97 percent support last year.
   
The result is a slap in the face for Baumann and his management team, Although the vote carries no direct consequences, it is a clear statement by disgruntled shareholders.
   
Around 500 protesters gathered outside the Bonn conference centre with placards mocking Bayer's corporate motto “science for a better life” or calling to “stop glyphosate”, the Monsanto-made herbicide at the centre of the group's woes.
   
Inside, investors were fuming. “Bayer has choked on Monsanto,” said Ingo Speich of Deka bank. “The company risks being taken over and dismantled.”  Mark Tuemmler of investors' federation DSW said 2018 was “a nightmare for shareholders”.
 
'A scandal'
 
Bayer's share price fell last year by around 40 percent following its $63 billion takeover of Monsanto in June — the biggest in German history. At 57 billion euros, its market capitalisation is little higher than the price it paid to acquire Monsanto in the first place. “A scandal,” Tuemmler said.
   
Opening the meeting, Baumann acknowledged that some 13,400 US lawsuits relating to glyphosate and initial unfavourable judgements against Bayer “are placing a heavy burden on our company and worrying many people”.
   
Last year's share price plunge was driven by the first of two jury rulings so far that have awarded plaintiffs — cancer patients who had been exposed to glyphosate over long periods — $80 million each.
   
Baumann complained that such decisions had been based on a 2015 finding by World Health Organization arm IARC that glyphosate “probably” causes cancer.
 
“We remain convinced of the safety of glyphosate,” the CEO said, recalling regulators worldwide found no new evidence that the pesticide causes cancer in reviews prompted by the IARC judgement.
   
In the two cases already heard, “we remain optimistic that the next higher courts will reach different verdicts,” the CEO added, calling for “decisions based on scientific analysis — and not on emotions”.
 
READ ALSO: 
 
The business case for the merger remained as strong as ever, he assured investors, with the merged companies now operating “leading businesses in chemical and biological crop protection, in conventional and biotech seed, and also in digital farming”.
   
And he reiterated the group's targets — including its pharmaceutical and over-the-counter medicines units — to increase sales four percent, to 46 billion euros ($51 billion) in 2019, with an operating profit before special items of 12.2 billion euros.
   
Current market reactions were “exaggerated” and did not reflect Bayer's “true value”, he said.
   
By around 3:00 pm (1300 GMT), Bayer had gained around one percent on the Frankfurt stock market to trade at 61.63 euros, outperforming the DAX index of blue-chip shares.
SHOW COMMENTS