(Beyond Pesticides, September 21, 2018) Monsanto, now an integrated unit of Bayer AG, is asking Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos to reverse the verdict, reduce the award, or grant a new trial for the company after a jury determined that a California groundskeeper contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from spraying glyphosate for years. Dewayne Johnson, who maintained the grounds of a California Bay-area school district, was awarded $289 million by a jury, which found that Monsanto acted with “malice or oppression.” Mr. Johnson’s case was the first of its kind to go to trial – fast tracked based on the severity of his illness – but over 8,000 similar lawsuits are pending in U.S. courts.
Bayer’s Monsanto claims that the verdict does not reflect the scientific data. “While we are sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family, glyphosate is not responsible for his illness, and the verdict in this case should be reversed or set aside,” Bayer said in a September 18 statement.
While Bayer contends that glyphosate does not result in individual applicators contracting cancer, this view is at odds with a 2015 designation from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which determined the chemical is a probable carcinogen, with sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity based on laboratory studies. The company further says that IARC’s review process was flawed, and that regulatory agencies around the globe have designated glyphosate safe when used as directed. However, this claim ignores the inherent scientific deficiencies in the assessment process of these regulatory agencies.
While regulatory bodies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and European Food Safety Authority only look at the active ingredient in a pesticide formulation, IARC conducted a broader, more comprehensive review, analyzing studies on both active ingredients, and formulated glyphosate products such as Roundup. Further, the data analyzed by EPA and EFSA are not produced or conducted by these agencies or independent scientists, but instead performed by Bayer, Monsanto, and the chemical companies themselves.
Speaking to EFSA’s glyphosate evaluation, Chris Portier, PhD, who acted as an expert witness Mr. Johnson’s case explains, “Agencies need to write their own reviews and not rely upon reviews written by industry. . . . As I’ve pointed out to all of my students over the years, he who writes the first draft sets the tone of the paper. Allowing industry to write their own reviews is certainly likely to bias the evaluation.’”
Not only do regulatory agencies rely on industry data, as discovered during Mr. Johnson’s trial, they also worked to cover-up the dangers of glyphosate. Based on evidence presented to the court, the Judge permitted the jury to consider not only the scientific evidence, but that Monsanto knew full well about the dangers of its products, and continued attempts to influence scientific decision making in its favor, and market its products to unaware consumers.
Legal experts that spoke with Reuters indicate that the company’s appeal is a long shot. But Bayer appears to be digging in, saying in a statement to Successful Farming that it “stands behind these products and will vigorously defend them.” It is no wonder, given that Monsanto’s market share for glyphosate represented a $15 billion annual revenue stream for the company. But since the verdict, shares of Bayer have dropped by over 20%, from $111 on August 9 to $85 on September 20. “[Bayer CEO] Werner Baumann must ask himself if Bayer took too lightly the lawsuits against Monsanto,” said Winfried Mathes, a corporate expert from Bayer shareholder Deka Investment, to the Wall Street Journal.
For a comprehensive source of information about Dewayne Johnson’s court case, including documents, exhibits, and expert presentations, see Beyond Pesticide previous Daily News. And for more information about the dangers of glyphosate products, see Beyond Pesticides fact sheet and article in our Pesticides and You newsletter, Monsanto’s Roundup (Glyphosate) Exposed.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.