August 11th, 2018
Monsanto has been ordered to pay $289m in damages to a former school groundskeeper who was diagnosed with cancer after repeated use of the company’s popular Roundup herbicide.
In a landmark ruling yesterday, a San Francisco jury unanimously found that Monsanto was responsible for Dewayne Johnson’s cancer, that the company failed to warn him of health hazards from exposure to Roundup and that it acted with malice or oppression.
The jury ordered the agrochemical giant to pay Mr Johnson $39.2 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages for failing to warn consumers that exposure to gylphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup – can cause cancer.
Mr Johnson filed the lawsuit in January 2016, alleging that his exposure to the weedkiller as a groundskeeper at a school in Benicia caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in 2014.
Mr Johnson is one of more than 4,000 people across the US to file a lawsuit against Monsanto in state and federal courts based on allegations linking Roundup to cancer.
His case, however, is the first to proceed to trial due to Mr Johnson’s terminal diagnosis. It is believed that he now only has a few months left to live.
While it is “sympathetic” to Mr Johnson and his family, Monsanto said in a statement that it intends to appeal the decision.
Eight long weeks or deliberations
The decision comes after eight weeks of deliberations in which Mr Johnson’s attorneys presented internal Monsanto emails they said show that the corporation overlooked warnings from experts and ghost-wrote scientific analyses that favoured the continued use of the active ingredient.
Internal documents presented during the trial also indicate that a scientific advisor hired by Monsanto told the company that past Roundup testing was insufficient as glyphosate was tested in isolation without the product’s other chemical ingredients.
In another document, Monsanto employees called Californians “liberals and morons” after the State’s Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) listed glyphosate as a carcinogen last July.
Co-lead trial counsel Brent Wisner said that the internal documents – many unsealed for the first time – prove that Monsanto has “known for decades that glyphosate and specifically Roundup could cause cancer”.
Mr Wisner added: “Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to require labeling, we are proud that an independent jury followed the evidence and used its voice to send a message to Monsanto that its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first over profits.”
Mr Johnson’s wife Araceli told the jury of many sleepless nights that her husband faced crying in bed. “He tried to hide it, and I think he tried to show that he was strong,” she said. “He tried to be positive.”
Ms Johnson said that she had to take on a second job after her husband began chemotherapy, working 14-hour days to help pay for medical bills.
During the trial, Mr Johnson told the jury that he was scared and confused when he was told he had cancer and that he would never have used Roundup, especially near children, if he knew the damage it could cause.
He said that he contacted Monsanto many times after developing skin lesions, yet never heard back from the company. “I never would’ve sprayed that product on school grounds or around people if I knew it would cause them harm,” he said. “It’s unethical. It’s wrong. People don’t deserve that.”
In a statement after the ruling, Monsanto said it will continue to “vigorously defend” Roundup and its “40-year history of safe use”.
“Today’s decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews – and conclusions by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world – support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr Johnson’s cancer,” the statement reads.
Bayer – the giant German multinational that recently bought Monsanto for $62 billion – said today that glyphosate is safe “on the basis of scientific conclusions”
“The views of worldwide regulatory authorities and the decades-long practical experience with glyphosate use Bayer is convinced that glyphosate is safe and does not cause cancer,” a company statement reads.
Licensing controversy in Europe
The European Commission looks set to make France the new lead evaluator in an overhaul of the safety assessment of the controversial weedkiller chemical, glyphosate.
The move from the Commission may come as a result of controversy over the previous German-led assessment and the close vote for the renewal.
The license for glyphosate was renewed for five years last November, with a last-minute U-turn by Germany, the current safety evaluator, ensuring that enough votes were received in favour of renewal.
The Commission wants to see a transfer of responsibility from Germany to France, a country that wants to ban glyphosate – the active ingredient in the popular Roundup weedkiller – in three years.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that it can potentially cause cancer in humans.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), however, determined that the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate was improbable based on a report from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.
It has been found that dozens of pages in the 4,300-page report were copied from a 2012 report from the Glyphosate Task Force, an industry body led by Monsanto.