On November 13th, a report in Fortune magazine stated that Bayer, Monsanto's new parent company, was “doubling down” on the herbicide Roundup, despite a huge verdict against the company earlier this year. Bayer's response is based on its most recent quarterly statement, which indicates that Roundup is still a “key driver of sales.”
The first cancer-related glyphosate lawsuit against Monsanto ended in a verdict of $289 million in favor of plaintiff Dewayne Johnson, a former groundskeeper for a San Francisco Bay-area school district. Johnson alleged that his terminal lymphoma was due to glyphosate exposure. The jury reached a unanimous verdict, finding that Monsanto acted with malice and that the active ingredient in its herbicide was indeed a contributing factor to his illness.
Although the judge in that case cut the award by 73 percent in accordance with a law governing how punitive damages are calculated, the verdict was allowed to stand. Defendant Monsanto is still on the hook for $78 million. Judge Suzanne Bolanos also denied Monsanto's request for a new trial.
A week later, lawyers for Monsanto filed a “notice of appeal,” asking the state appellate court to review Judge Bolano's decision.
In the wake of the Johnson verdict, Bayer's stock price has dropped by over 30 percent, representing approximately $20 billion in market value. However, after the recent earnings report, shares regained some ground, rising by 2.7 percent. The German-based conglomerate continues to state that it “stands behind its glyphosate-based products and we are confident that the company will ultimately prevail in this litigation based on the extensive body of favorable science.”
Despite Bayer's optimistic statement and outlook, the tide appears to be turning against them. There are currently 9,300 additional glyphosate lawsuits pending. The first federal case against Monsanto is scheduled to go to trial in February. The plaintiff in that case, Edward Hardeman, also a California resident, started using Roundup in the 1980s and continued to use it for weed control on his own property for many years. Like Johnson, he has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Additional glyphosate trials will begin in March and September. It is not known what impact the Johnson verdict will have on verdicts going forward. Bayer has attempted to reassure its investors that one verdict does not determine future outcomes.
Nonetheless, public opinion has been turning against Monsanto around the world over the past few years. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and California has added the herbicide to its list of substances “known to cause cancer.” As of this past April, glyphosate was banned in 13 countries and its use has been restricted in several others. Protests against Monsanto have been ongoing, and scientists have called on further restrictions on the use of glyphosate-based weedkillers.
There is also the possibility that Bayer investors may turn against the company. Reporter Cary Gilliam, who has been following the Monsanto saga, told Public Radio International that Bayer executives did not warn investors about the potential liability of its new acquisition when they took over Monsanto earlier this year. In an interview, Gilliam said, “If these things continue to snowball and the plaintiffs continue to win, there will be settlement talks. The numbers that I've already heard tossed around are 3 to 5 billion dollars.”