Monsanto must pay $289m in damages over herbicide cancer case

Andrew Cummings
August 11, 2018

Pharmaceutical group Bayer has dismissed claims that an ingredient used in weed killers is carcinogenic.

Monsanto says hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe.

A California jury ordered chemical giant Monsanto to pay almost US$290 million on Friday for failing to warn a dying groundskeeper that its weed killer Roundup might cause cancer.

"It is a landmark development in terms of the jury fixing responsibility on Monsanto and its negligence and given the discussion around glyphosate and its safety in India", said Kavitha Kuruganti, from the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA).

Bayer completed its $66bn takeover of Monsanto in June. Between them the two companies have almost 600 stores.

Monsanto has denied that glyphosate, the key ingredient in both Roundup and Ranger Pro, causes cancer.

Over the course of the four-week trial, jurors heard testimony by statisticians, doctors, public health researchers and epidemiologists who disagreed on whether glyphosate can cause cancer.

The claimant, groundsman Dewayne Johnson, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2014.

Johnson's case was the first to go to trial because he's near death, and in California, dying plaintiffs can be granted expedited trials, according to the report.

Glyphosate is the world's most common weedkiller. The California ruling could lead to hundreds of other claims against Monsanto.

Monsanto spokesman Scott Partridge said the company will appeal.

Image copyright Getty Images What is glyphosate and is it unsafe? In the U.S., more than 750 products contain it.

It came after the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, said in 2015 that glyphosate was a "probable human carcinogen".

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for pesticide regulation, said: "Decisions on the use of pesticides should be based on a careful scientific assessment of the risks". Emails sent the duo seeking comment on the California court's verdict and government plan of action remained unanswered at the time of publishing this article.As per the Indian food regulator FSSAI, the maximum permissible residue levels of glyphosate as of December a year ago are: 1 mg/kg in tea, 0.01 mg/kg in rice and 0.05 mg/kg in meat.

The jury also found Monsanto "acted with malice or oppression" and ruled the company knew or should have known the weedkiller was unsafe.

Mr Johnson's attorneys sought and won $US39 million in compensatory damages and $US250 million of the $US373 million they wanted in punitive damages. "Roundup could cause cancer", Johnson's lawyer Brent Wisner said in a statement.

"When you are right, it is really easy to win", he said. "The jury got it wrong", he told reporters outside the courthouse.

In a statement after the ruling, Monsanto said it was "sympathetic to Mr Johnson and his family" but it would "continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective and safe tool for farmers and others".

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