OMAHA (DTN) -- The hits keep coming for Bayer's Roundup glyphosate herbicide, as a California jury on Monday awarded $2.055 billion in damages to a couple that has battled cancer after decades of using the product. It's the largest of three awards juries have handed out since the company acquired Monsanto last year.
Alva and Alberta Pilliod of Livermore, California, used Roundup for more than 30 years to landscape their home and other properties. The couple, both in their 70s, were each diagnosed with the same type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In a lawsuit filed in Superior Court of California in Oakland, the Pilliods claimed their cancer diagnoses were a result of exposure to glyphosate, and accused Bayer of fraudulently representing that the product is safe.
In a statement following the verdict on Monday, the Pilliods' attorney R. Brent Wisner said the jury did its job.
"They were given an incredibly difficult task having to analyze the highly complex scientific issues in this case," he said. "They took detailed notes, asked incredibly thoughtful questions and in the end, came to understand that the science shows there are serious health hazards associated with Roundup and that Monsanto did nothing to warn people about the risk.
"The jury saw for themselves internal company documents demonstrating that, from day one, Monsanto has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe. Instead of investing in sound science, they invested millions in attacking science that threatened their business agenda."
The verdict comes just 12 days after an EPA interim review of glyphosate found no human health risks associated with its use and that the herbicide is not a carcinogen. However, the agency did acknowledge glyphosate poses some ecological risks.
It is the third time Bayer has lost at trial on glyphosate. The latest jury ruled there is a design defect in the product and that the company failed to warn consumers of risks.
At the end of March, a California jury awarded $80 million to a man with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who had used glyphosate at an animal refuge for nearly 30 years. Last year, another jury in the state awarded $289 million to a groundskeeper with cancer who used the chemical. The award was later reduced to $78 million.
In a statement following the verdict, Bayer said it will appeal the decision that it says "conflicts directly" with EPA's recent decision.
"We have great sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod, but the evidence in this case was clear that both have long histories of illnesses known to be substantial risk factors for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), most NHL has no known cause, and there is not reliable scientific evidence to conclude that glyphosate-based herbicides were the 'but for' cause of their illnesses as the jury was required to find in this case," the company said.
"The contrast between today's verdict and EPA's conclusion that there are 'no risks to public health from the current registered uses of glyphosate' could not be more stark," Bayer said in its statement. "EPA's conclusion is based on a database of more than 800 studies on glyphosate and Bayer's glyphosate-based herbicides that relate to human and mammalian health, and its 2017 cancer risk assessment also examined numerous studies in the open literature. In contrast, plaintiffs in this case presented the jury with cherry-picked findings from a tiny fraction of the volume of studies available, and that failed to adjust for exposure to other pesticides, did not have statistically significant results, had very small exposed populations and/or are at odds with the full body of science."
Bayer said the plaintiffs in the latest case relied heavily on a 2015 assessment of glyphosate by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization agency. The IARC concluded glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic."
Bayer said EPA's cancer assessment was "more robust" and "more transparent" than IARC's review, which "considered only a subset of published studies included in EPA's evaluation. IARC's opinion remains an outlier among international health regulators and scientific bodies."
IARC UNDER FIRE
IARC came under fire as a result of its broad declarations about what is carcinogenic in detailed summary reports known as 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.
Agricultural crops genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate have greatly expanded the use of the chemistry since 1996. Glyphosate also is used in forestry, urban, lawn and garden applications. Bayer also had glyphosate in its portfolio before acquiring Monsanto.
That broad use has drawn worldwide attention to the herbicide and to its safety.
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. In 2018, California regulators failed in an attempt to label glyphosate products as "known to cause cancer."
Earlier in April, Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development banned the import of glyphosate after a series of legal defeats for Bayer in U.S. civil lawsuits alleging the weed killer caused cancer.
At the end of December 2017, 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.
BAYER STOCK VALUE DECLINE
Following the verdict on Monday, Bayer's stock continued to decline. Since purchasing Monsanto last year, Bayer has seen its stock price drop by about 40%. Stockholders have been concerned about the company's pending legal liability with glyphosate, as more than 13,000 additional trials are pending.
Bayer has seen its stock price plummet 40% since it purchased Monsanto last year for $63 billion. At its recent annual meeting, a shareholder revolt ensued, with more than half of the shareholders voting against absolving management for its decision to acquire the St. Louis-based seed and pesticide company.
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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