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By Stacy Malkan
In the latest PR scandal to engulf Bayer, journalists at Le Monde reported May 9 that they obtained a "Monsanto File" created by the public relations firm FleishmanHillard listing a "multitude of information" about 200 journalists, politicians, scientists and others deemed likely to influence the debate on glyphosate in France.
A third jury ruled that Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller caused cancer Monday, awarding a California couple more than $2 billion in damages. Not only is it the largest award in a Roundup trial to date, it is also the largest U.S. jury award this year and the eighth-largest product-defect award ever, Bloomberg reported.
"We really wanted to tell Monsanto, 'Cut it out, do better,' and we wanted to get their attention," juror Doug Olsen told Bloomberg of the award.
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Germany's Bayer, which bought the U.S. agrochemical firm Monsanto, issued an apology on Sunday following reports that its American subsidiary drew up a list of those critical of the firm's practices.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Tuesday that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller, does not cause cancer, reaffirming its 2017 finding and contradicting juries who ruled the opposite in two high profile trials, Reuters reported.
A French appeals court ruled Thursday in favor of a farmer who has been in a decade-long fight with Monsanto since he fell ill after inhaling a now-banned weedkiller.
A jury in the first U.S. federal Roundup trial ruled Wednesday that Bayer must pay more than $80 million in damages to 70-year-old Edwin Hardeman, who developed cancer after using the glyphosate-containing weedkiller to control poison oak, weeds and overgrowth on his Sonoma property for years, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.
- Scientists Found Worrisome New Evidence About Roundup and ... ›
- UW study: Exposure to chemical in Roundup increases risk for cancer ›
- Monsanto Roundup Trial Tracker: New Developments - U.S. Right to ... ›
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is the world's most widely used weedkiller and has been surrounded by controversy ever since the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it as "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015.
Update, Jan. 25, this post includes new reporting:
Since the Jan. 8 judgement, new reports have called Monsanto's "patent victory"—and the media's reporting of it—into doubt.