Published: Thu, May 16, 2019
Finance | By Kristine Clayton

Monsanto ordered to pay $2B to couple in weed killer cancer case

Monsanto ordered to pay $2B to couple in weed killer cancer case

A U.S. jury ordered agribusiness giant Monsanto pay a combined A$2.05 billion (NZ$3.12 billion) to a couple who claimed the company's popular weed killer Roundup Ready caused their cancers.

The jury's verdict on Monday was the third such courtroom loss for Monsanto concerning the chemical, which Bayer acquired as part of its $63bn purchase of the company previous year.

The company said both Alva and Alberta Pilliod had long histories of illnesses known to be substantial risk factors for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to Reuters. They were both found to have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

A federal jury in San Francisco ordered the weed killer maker in March to pay a Sonoma County man $80 million.

German agro-chemicals and drugs giant Bayer announced last month that more than 13,000 lawsuits related to the weedkiller had been launched in the United States. The corporation has repeatedly defended the controversial product, claiming that scientific evidence supports Monsanto's position that glyphosate-based herbicides are not carcinogenic.

The California Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that any punitive damages exceeding 10 times the compensatory damages are likely unconstitutionally high.

A jury in San Francisco Superior Court in Oakland found the company liable after a seven-week trial - citing its active ingredient, glyphosate, as the underlying cause of the cancer.

There have also been concerns about whether Monsanto has had undue influence over regulators, with internal company documents playing a key role in Monday's verdict, according to the plaintiffs' lawyers.

Bayer released a statement following the jury's decision, vowing to fight back.

The company quickly responded saying it was "disappointed with the jury's decision and will appeal the verdict in this case".

"They were given an incredibly hard task having to analyze the highly-complex scientific issues in this case", said co-lead trial counsel R. Brent Wisner, of Baum Hedlund Law, in a statement after the verdict.

Under a push to divest assets including its animal health division, Bayer late on Monday said it had agreed to sell US sun care brand Coppertone to Nivea owner Beiersdorf, for $550 million. "Instead of investing in sound science, they invested millions in attacking science that threatened their business agenda". That was later reduced to $78 million. Hundreds of other cases are pending in federal multidistrict litigation. Additionally, EPA's 2017 post-IARC cancer risk assessment examined more than 100 studies the agency considered relevant and concluded that glyphosate is "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans", its most favorable rating, while the agency's April 2019 interim registration review decision on glyphosate also reaffirmed that "there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen". The court didn't propose a ratio it felt correct, but said punitive damages should nearly never exceed nine times actual damages, it said.

Bayer's management was already in hot water over the wisdom of the Monsanto takeover, with shareholders having effectively told CEO Werner Baumann in a no-confidence vote last month that his job is in jeopardy.

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