Monsanto to Appeal Glyphosate Case

A California Jury Awarded $289M in Damages to Cancer Victim

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Monsanto is set to appeal a jury's decision to award a cancer victim millions of dollars in damages from using Roundup. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Monsanto will challenge a jury's Roundup verdict in favor of a California cancer victim, after the company was found liable on Friday and ordered to pay $289 million in damages.

Groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. His attorneys alleged during trial his illness was caused by Roundup and Ranger Pro, both Monsanto glyphosate herbicides.

Monsanto Vice-President Scott Partridge said in a statement Friday the company would continue to fight the verdict.

"We are sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family," he said.

However, Partridge said more than 800 scientific studies and reviews in addition to conclusions from the EPA, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and other regulatory bodies around the world, "support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson's cancer. We will appeal this decision 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."

The jury award was handed down in San Francisco's Superior Court of California, a state court. The jury awarded $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

Charla Lord, Monsanto media and corporate engagement lead, told DTN this was an initial jury verdict and "there has been no settlement with Mr. Johnson. Glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson's cancer."

Monsanto faces about 5,000 similar additional lawsuits across the country.

Bayer stock dropped more than 10% Monday, losing about $14 billion in value, as a result of the jury's verdict on Friday. Bayer bought Monsanto earlier this year for $63 billion.

Early last week, a judge in Brazil also suspended the use of products containing glyphosate until the government re-evaluates the chemical's toxicology.

Carey Gillam, research director of U.S. Right to Know, said in a statement the California jury verdict was justified.

"Monsanto and its chemical industry allies have spent decades actively working to confuse and deceive consumers, farmers, regulators and lawmakers about the risks associated with glyphosate-based herbicides," Gillam said. "As they've suppressed the risks, they've trumpeted the rewards and pushed use of this weed killer to historically high levels."

Gillam is the author of a 2017 book focused on Monsanto and glyphosate called, "Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science."

Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, said, "This verdict represents a victory of medical science over corporate propaganda, and will hopefully help other victims of Monsanto's hazardous Roundup herbicide achieve some measure of justice. If only it had come sooner, much suffering could have been averted. EPA found glyphosate could possibly cause cancer in the 1980s, then was strong-armed into reversing its position by Monsanto."

Though glyphosate was developed by Monsanto, it is off-patent and sold by many agriculture companies as one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. It came to market in 1974 under Monsanto's Roundup label for control of perennial and annual weeds in non-crop and industrial areas.

Agricultural crops genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate have greatly expanded the use of the chemistry since 1996. Glyphosate is also used in forestry, urban, lawn and garden applications.

That broad use has drawn worldwide attention to the herbicide and to its safety.

Earlier this year California regulators failed in attempt to label glyphosate products as "known to cause cancer."

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization agency, concluded glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic."

IARC came under fire as a result of its broad declarations about what is carcinogenic in summary reports the IARC calls "monographs." The agency, for instance, drew scorn in 2015 for a monograph classifying processed red meats such as bacon as carcinogenic.

The IARC's glyphosate finding set off a series of reactions. The EPA released and retracted a report refuting the IARC's conclusion in 2015.

Monsanto has been sued dozens of times by people claiming various cancers linked to glyphosate exposure. Nearly every one of those cases filed cite the IARC findings.

At the end of December 2017, the EPA announced in its draft risk assessment of glyphosate that the herbicide is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

At the end of November 2017, the European Union approved a five-year extension of glyphosate's use. Agriculture interests had wanted a 15-year extension.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley