A scientist testified Monday that a California woman’s regular use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide “vastly” exceeded the exposure scientific research shows more than doubles the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
William Sawyer, a toxicologist and expert witness for plaintiff Donnetta Stephens in her lawsuit against Monsanto, cited scientific research that links use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup, to cancer and specifically to NHL. Sawyer has testified in prior Roundup cancer trials, including a 2019 trial that resulted in a jury verdict of more than $2 billion for a husband-and-wife who both suffered from NHL.
The Stephens v. Monsanto trial has been underway for roughly three months, starting in late July. The proceedings have been handled via Zoom, and multiple technical problems have at time hindered the delivery of testimony and sharing of evidence with jury members.
Jurors have heard from Stephens, her son, various cancer experts and from some of Monsanto’s top scientists, including longtime Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer. Farmer now works for Bayer AG, the German pharmaceutical company that bought Monsanto in 2018.
Stephens’ trial is a “preference” case, meaning her case was expedited after her lawyers informed the court that Stephens was “in a perpetual state of pain” and losing cognition and memory.
The case is being tried in the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California under the oversight of Judge Gilbert Ochoa. Stephens is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Juries in the first three trials found in favor of the plaintiffs, agreeing with claims that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killers, such as Roundup, cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Monsanto spent decades covering up the risks, and failing to warn users.
Monsanto won a recent trial involving a mother who claimed her son developed NHL because of exposure he experienced while she sprayed the weed killer.
More trouble for Bayer
Angry investors can proceed with litigation against Bayer over allegations that the company made misleading statements about its $63 billion 2018 acquisition of Monsanto, and of the extent of concerns about the company’s herbicide products.
A federal judge ruled last week that a class action led by a group of pension funds can proceed with their claims that Bayer proceeded with its purchase of Monsanto despite analyst warnings and an awareness that acquiring Monsanto brought significant risks, and assuring investors Bayer management had fully assessed those risks.
Bayer has settled several cases that were scheduled to go to trial over the last two years. And in 2020, the company said it would pay roughly $11 billion to settle a majority of the more than 100,000 existing Roundup cancer claims. The company recently said it was setting aside another $4.5 billion toward Roundup litigation liability.
Bayer also announced it would stop selling Roundup, and other herbicides made with the active ingredient glyphosate, to U.S. consumers by 2023. But the company continues to sell the products for use by farmers and commercial applicators.
Monsanto Roundup Trial Tracker: Stephens trial drags on, toxicologist testifies about studies of herbicide and cancer risk
March 18, 2019: Jurors Want to Hear From Plaintiff Again
Today marks the beginning of the fourth week of the Hardeman V. Monsanto Roundup cancer trial, and jurors were still deliberating over the sole question that they must answer to close out the first phase of the trial and potentially move into the second phase.
The six jurors let Judge Vince Chhabria know on Friday that as they deliberate they want to have plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s testimony read back to them. Chhabria said that would take place first thing Monday morning.
At Monsanto’s request, the trial has been divided into two phases. The first phase deals only with the question of whether or not jurors find that Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
If the jurors unanimously answer yes to that question the trial moves into a second phase in which Hardeman’s attorneys will put on evidence aimed at showing that Monsanto knew of the cancer risks of Roundup but actively worked to hide that information from consumers, in part by manipulating the scientific record.
If the trial does go to the second phase, the plaintiff will lack one key expert witness – Charles Benbrook – after the judge ruled that he would sharply limit Benbrook’s testimony regarding Monsanto’s corporate conduct.
Hardeman’s lead counsel Aimee Wagstaff and her co-counsel Jennifer Moore plan to spend the day in the courthouse Monday as the jury deliberates after again raising the ire of Judge Chhabria. Chhabria was annoyed Friday that the lawyers took longer than he expected to get to the courthouse after they were notified that all parties must convene to address the jurors’ request to hear Hardeman’s testimony again.
Chhabria sanctioned Wagstaff the first week of the trial for what he called “several acts of misconduct during her opening statement.” One of her transgressions, according to Chhabria, was spending too much time telling jurors about her client and his cancer diagnosis.
March 15, 2019: Google Ads Raise Concerns About Geofencing
(UPDATE 3:30 pm Pacific time- Jurors retiring for the day after failing again to reach a verdict. Testimony from plaintiff Edwin Hardeman to be read back to jurors Monday morning at their request. Judge Chhabria remains irritated with plaintiff’s attorneys, annoyed at the time it took them to arrive at court Friday afternoon.)
Jurors were back in court today resuming deliberations after a day off on Thursday. There is but one question they must answer: “Did Mr. Hardeman prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his exposure to Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?”
The judge admonished the jurors that if they pondered that question on their day off they should not seek out information about the safety of Roundup or read news articles or scientific studies about the matter. They should confine themselves to consideration only of evidence presented at trial.
Interestingly, yesterday in the San Francisco area google ads were popping up on smart phones and computers promoting the safety of Roundup. One site in particular – Weeding Wisely – was coming in at the top of some Google sites, offering such headlines as “Fear of ‘chemicals’ results from misunderstanding” and “Look at the science, not scare tactics, of glyphosate herbicide.” Also this one – “Weed Killer Hype Lacks Scientific Support.”
The google ad renewed fears by some that Monsanto and Bayer may be engaging in geofencing, a term used to describe a tactic for delivering specific messaging to individuals within specific geographic areas.
Last month Hardeman attorney Jennifer Moore alerted Judge Chhabria to fears held by Hardeman’s legal team that Monsanto might have engaged in geofencing before and would do so again to try to influence jurors. Moore told the judge they were considering “whether we were going to file a temporary restraining order to prohibit Monsanto from any kind of geofencing or targeting jurors through social media or pay-per-click ads. And so I would just ask that that not be done. We’re not doing it on our side, but I just don’t want any targeting of jurors, their social media or Internet means.”
Chhabria replied “Isn’t it, like — doesn’t it go without saying that it would be totally inappropriate? Obviously nobody on either side — nobody within a hundred miles of either side may attempt to target any juror or prospective juror with any sort of messaging.”
Geofencing is a popular advertising technique that delivers specific messaging/content to anyone within a specific geographic area designated by the company or group paying for the ad. The area can be very small, a mile radius around a specific address, for instance. Or it can be much larger. Anyone within that designated area using an app on a smart phone – such as a weather app or a game – would then be delivered the ad.
Whether or not Monsanto did or would use the tactic to try to influence jurors would be almost impossible to prove. Monsanto attorney Brian Stekloff responded to the concerns raised last month and the judge’s warning about geofencing by saying “I understand that they may have allegations, but I’m not accepting those allegations….. of course we will abide by that…”
The placement of google ads for certain search terms does not necessarily mean anyone was targeting jurors with geofencing. And it’s worth noting that google ad buys have been – and remain – a popular strategy employed by plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking new Roundup clients.
March 14, 2019: Trial & Jury Day Off
Jurors have the day off today but the lawyers do not. Chhabria is holding a hearing with attorneys for both sides at 12:30 pm Pacific time to discuss the scope of the second phase, if a second phase is held.
Among the issues to be discussed, plaintiff’s lawyers are renewing their request to be able to present testimony about Monsanto’s efforts to discredit French scientist Gilles-Éric Séralini after publication of his 2012 study findings about rats fed water dosed with Roundup. Internal Monsanto records show a coordinated effort to get the Seralini paper retracted, including this email string.
Monsanto employees apparently were so proud of what they called a “multimedia event that was designed for maximum negative publicity” against Seralini that they designated it as an “achievement” worth recognition.
Evidence demonstrates “that the Séralini story is central to Monsanto’s failure to test as well as its efforts to manipulate public opinion,” Edwin Hardeman’s attorneys argue. As well, they say in their court filing, “the testimony reveals that Monsanto responded to the study by attempting to undermine and discredit Dr. Séralini, which is further evidence “that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer,” but “[focuses] instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.” ”
“The Séralini Story is Relevant to Monsanto’s Efforts to Undermine Scientists Raising Concerns about Glyphosate,” Hardeman’s attorneys argue.
Lawyers for Hardeman want expert witness Charles Benbrook to be allowed to testify about this example of Monsanto’s corporate conduct “post-use,” meaning actions by Monsanto that took place after Hardeman stopped using Roundup.
Judge Chhabria earlier ruled that the evidence regarding efforts to discredit Seralini could not be introduced because those efforts took place after Hardeman’s Roundup use ended and so would not have impacted him.
On Wednesday, Chhabria also ruled that evidence of Monsanto’s efforts to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer after it classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen would be excluded from a second phase of the trial because it took place after Hardeman’s Roundup use ended.
Even as both sides prepare for a second phase, the lack of a quick jury decision does not bode well for Hardeman. His attorneys were hoping for a quick unanimous decision by the jurors in their favor. Any decision by the jury must be unanimous or the case can be declared a mistrial.
(UPDATE 5:45 p.m. Pacific time – Jury has retired for the evening with no verdict. Deliberations to resume Friday.)
Judge Chhabria instructed lawyers for both sides to be ready to present opening statements for the second phase of the trial today if jurors come back this morning with a verdict. The second phase only occurs, however, if the jurors first find unanimously for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman in the first phase, which dealt solely with the question of causation.
Did Mr. Hardeman prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his exposure to Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
It will take all six jurors to answer yes to that question in order for the trial to continue. If the jurors are split in how they answer the question, the judge has said he would declare a mistrial.
The judge guided the jurors in how to consider that question and how to evaluate the evidence presented to them in a 17-page list of instructions.
The jurors are allowed to request to look at specific exhibits and pieces of evidence but they are not allowed to see transcripts of the previous days of testimony. The judge said that if jurors want to review the testimony of a particular witness they can ask to have that witness’s testimony, or a portion of that witness’s testimony, read back to them but the lawyers and judge would need to be present for that.
If jurors return a verdict in favor of Hardeman on Wednesday afternoon, opening statements for phase two will take place Friday.
Chhabria kept a tight rein on closing arguments Tuesday, prohibiting Hardeman’s lead attorney Aimee Wagstaff from showing a photo of Hardeman and his wife in her closing slide presentation. He told Wagstaff that the photo was “not relevant” and said that he did not “need to hear further argument about that.” When she asked for his rationale, Chhabria simply repeated his belief that it was not relevant.
Monsanto filed a motion for a directed verdict on Tuesday, arguing that Hardeman has presented “insufficient general causation evidence,” and specifically attacked the credibility of pathologist Dennis Weisenburger, one of Hardeman’s expert witnesses. Judge Chhabria denied the motion.
Separately, the upcoming Pilliod V. Monsanto case in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland was looking at a sizable jury pool of more than 200 people. They plan to select 17, with 12 jurors and five alternates. The case may not begin until March 27 or March 28 due to the lengthy jury selection process.
March 12, 2019: Concerns over Judge’s Jury Instructions
(UPDATE, 3 p.m. Pacific Time – Closing arguments are completed. The jury has received instructions for deliberations.)
Closing arguments got underway Tuesday. With the first phase of Hardeman V. Monsanto winding down plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s attorneys issued a strong objection to Judge Vince Chhabria’s plans for instructing the jury about how to consider the issue of causation.
The way Chhabria worded his instructions makes it “impossible” for Hardeman to prevail, attorney Jennifer Moore wrote in a letter to the judge. California law sets for instructions that causation is determined when a substance or action is a “substantial factor” in causing an outcome. But the judge’s instructions would require jurors to find that Roundup was the sole factor that caused Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Moore argued.
Judge Chhabria replied by saying he could not give “the standard California multiple causation instruction” because plaintiff’s attorneys failed to present evidence that Hardeman’s cancer was due to multiple factors. He did say, however, that he could modify the instructions slightly to try to address the concerns. In the final instructionChhabria added wording that said asubstantial factor “does not have to be the only cause of the harm.”
Monsanto has argued that Hardeman’s cancer is not due toexposure to glyphosate-based herbicides but more likely due to the hepatitis C Hardeman had for many years.
This is also an interesting little nugget in the jury instructions:
Meanwhile, in the upcoming Pilliod V. Monsanto case, motion hearings and discussion of hardship claims for prospective jurors begins next week in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, not far from downtown San Francisco where the Hardeman case may still be underway if it goes to the second phase.
Opening statements in the Pilliod trial could begin March 21 but more likely will take place March 25 or later depending on how long the jury selection process takes.
Monsanto’s legal team on Monday presented testimony from Dr. Alexandra Levine, a hematologist/oncologist with City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, seeking to convince the jury that exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides was not a cause of Hardeman’s cancer, and that a more likely factor is the hepatitis C Hardeman had for many years. Levine testified that she has seen “many, many,thousands of patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” and she is in factconsidered a specialist in that specific disease.
Judge Chhabria said last week that he would like to see this first phase of the trial wrapped up early this week, meaning the case should be with the jury soon. A verdict requires all six jurors to be unanimous in their finding regarding whether or not Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup “was a substantial factor” in causing his cancer. The judge will define for jurors what that means. (See Friday’s entry for more details.)
If the jury does not unanimously decide either for Hardeman or Monsanto then the case would be a mistrial. Chhabria has also said that if that happens he is considering retrying it in May.
If the jury finds for Hardeman on causation, the trial would quickly move into Phase II using the same jury. And that is where things will really start to get interesting. Hardeman’s attorneys plan to call several Monsanto executives for testimony, including former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant. Grant spent more than 35 years at the company and was named CEO in 2003. He led the company until its acquisition by Bayer AG last summer.
Additionally, lawyers for Hardeman plan to call Roger McClellan, editor of the scientific journalCritical Reviews in Toxicology(CRT), which published a series of papers in September 2016 that rebuked the finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) finding that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. The papers purported to be written by independent scientists who found that the weight of evidence showed the weed killer was unlikely to pose any carcinogenic risk to people.
However, internal Monsanto documentsshow that the papers were conceptualized from the outset as a strategy by Monsanto to discredit IARC. One of Monsanto’s top scientists not onlyreviewed the manuscriptsbut had a hand in drafting and editing them, though that was not disclosed by CRT.
Hardeman’s lawyers additionally said they plan to call Doreen Manchester, of Croplife America, the agrochemical industry’s lobbying organization. Manchester’s role at CropLife has been helping “lead federal and state litigation to support pesticide regulatory issues.”
Lawyers for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman rested their case on Friday, giving Monsanto a turn to put on its own witnesses in this first phase of the case.
Judge Chhabria has indicated he would like to see the first phase of the trial wrapped up by early next week, and he has ordered attorneys for both sides to be ready to discuss and debate two proposed sets of instructions for him to give the jury for deliberations regarding the definition of “causation.”
For Hardeman’s case to be allowed to proceed to a Phase 2 in which damages could be awarded, the group of six jurors must be unanimous in finding that Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma, so the judge’s instructions about how the element of causation is defined is a critical point.
The judge’s first option reads as follows: “To prevail on the question of medical causation, Mr. Hardeman must prove by apreponderance of the evidence that Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his nonHodgkin’s lymphoma. A substantial factor is a factor that a reasonable person would consider tohave contributed to the harm. It must be more than a remote or trivial factor.If you conclude that Mr. Hardeman has proven that his exposure to Roundup was asubstantial factor in causing his NHL, then you should find for Mr. Hardeman even if you believethat other risk factors were substantial factors as well.”
The judge’s second option has the same first three lines as the first option but then adds this: “Conduct is not a substantial factor in causing harm if the same harm would have occurredwithout that conduct.”
Option 2 also changes the last line of the instruction to say: “However, if you conclude that Mr. Hardeman has proven that his exposureto Roundup was sufficient on its own to cause his NHL, then you should find for Mr. Hardemaneven if you believe that other risk factors were also sufficient to cause his NHL.”
A big part of Monsanto’s defense is to suggest that other factors could be the cause of Hardeman’s cancer, including a struggle with hepatitis C. Hardeman’s team has said that he was cured in 2006 of hepatitis C but Monsanto’s team argues that cell damage from the hepatitis was a potential contributor to his cancer.
Monsanto expert witness Dr. Daniel Arber in his pre-trial report wrote that Hardeman has many risk factors for NHL, and said: “There is no indication that Roundup played any role in the development of his NHL, and there are no pathological features to suggest a cause of his lymphoma.”
Judge Chhabria has ruledthat Arber cannot testify that the hepatitis C caused Hardeman’s NHL but ruled Thursdaythat Arber can explain that Hardeman’s lengthy exposure to hepatitis C left him at riskof developing NHL even after his virus had been successfully treated.
Judge Vince Chhabria issued a stinging response to Monsanto’s motion for summary judgment on Thursday, stating in his order that there was plenty of evidence that the company’s glyphosate herbicides – namely Roundup – could have caused plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s cancer.
“To take just one example,” the judge wrote, “the De Roos (2003) studysupports a conclusion that glyphosate is a risk factor for NHL, yet Monsanto fails to mention it inits motion. Monsanto cannot prevail on a motion for summary judgment by simply ignoring largeswaths of evidence.”
He also said there was “sufficient evidence” to support a punitive damages award against Monsanto if the jury finds for Hardeman.
“The plaintiffs have presented a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken aresponsible, objective approach to the safety of its product,” Judge Chhabria stated in his ruling.
The judge concluded: “Although the evidence that Roundup causescancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude thatMonsanto 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 andlegitimate concerns about the issue.”
March 7, 2019: No Trial Today, But a Story About the Last Trial
The historic win last summer of California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson over Monsanto and its new owner Bayer made news around the world and made some of Johnson’s attorneys virtual celebrities in legal circles, garnering them awards and international notoriety.
But behind the scenes of victory, the aftermath of the first-ever Roundup cancer trial has plunged Johnson’s attorneys into a bitter legal battle of their own, with allegations swirling of self-dealing, drug use and “disloyal and erratic conduct.”
In a lawsuit and counterclaim filed in Orange County Circuit Court in Virginia, The Miller Law Firm accuses attorney Tim Litzenburg, someone who has portrayed himself as Johnson’s lead trial attorney, of stealing the firm’s confidential client information with the intent of setting up his own separate law firm, even as he was failing to show up for preparatory meetings for Johnson’s trial. The complaint also alleges that Litzenburg admitted to using drugs during the Johnson trial.
“Multiple members of Mr. Johnson’s trial team observed Mr. Litzenburg acting disoriented and frantic at court,” the complaint states. “When he was permitted to argue a motion before the Court…. his delivery was jumbled and incoherent. Members of the trial team were concerned that Mr. Litzenburg was actively under the influence of drugs in the courtroom…”
The trial itself ended up being handled by other attorneys and Litzenburg was not present for the close of the trial nor the day that the jury returned a $289 million verdict against Monsanto.
Roughly one month later, on September 11, 2018, The Miller Firm terminated Litzenburg’s employment, the lawsuit states.
Litzenburg, who is now affiliated with the firm of Kincheloe, Litzenburg & Pendleton, did not respond to a request for comment, other than to say it was “an unfortunate distraction” from his work at his new firm. In past comments Litzenburg described his separation from The Miller Firm as due to a misunderstanding with Mike Miller, one of the firm’s founders.
The following are excerpts from the litigation:
Litzenburg asserts that The Miller Firm’s claims against him are “salacious and often purely fictional” and are due to The Miller Firm’s fears that they would lose Roundup clients to Litzenburg’s new firm. He claims he was offered $1 million by firm founder Mike Miller to walk away from his Roundup clients but declined the offer.
Expert witness for the plaintiff Dr. Dennis Weisenburger was being cross examined Wednesday by Monsanto attorneys after extensive direct testimony for cancer victim Edwin Hardeman. Hardeman’s attorneys said they were nearing the end of the first phase of presenting their case.
Weisenburger, a pathologist specializing in studying the causes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, testified Tuesday for more than four hours, walking jurors through scientific evidence he said shows Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide is a “substantial cause” of cancer in people who are exposed. He followed testimony by Hardeman, who spoke for just less than an hour under direct examination about his use of Roundup for decades before his cancer diagnosis in 2016.
The Guardian recapped Hardeman’s testimonyin which he said thathe sprayed Roundup once a month for three to four hours at a time around his property and sometimes felt like chemical mist blowing onto his skin.
Plaintiff’s attorneys expected to rest their case today but Weisenburger’s testimony ran so long that they now plan to rest the case when court resumes on Friday. No proceedings are scheduled for Thursday.
Separately, lawyers gathered in nearby Alameda County Superior Court for a “Sargon” hearing ahead of the March 18 start of Pilliod V. Monsanto. The Pilliod case will be the third to go to trial challenging Monsanto and its new owner Bayer over alleged carcinogenicity of Roundup products. See Pilliod case documents at this link.
March 5, 2019: Hardeman to Testify, Sick Juror or Not
After a break in testimony Monday due to a sick juror, cancer victim Edwin Hardeman is slated to take the stand today in the ongoing Roundup cancer trial in federal court in San Francisco. His testimony is expected to take less than an hour.
Judge Chhabria indicated the trial will proceed today without the woman juror if she remains ill. Only six jurors are required for the case to move forward and currently there are seven.
For Hardeman’s direct examination, his attorneys plan to bring in to court a 2-gallon, pump-up sprayer to demonstrate how he applied Roundup to his property for years; how his repeated exposure actually occurred. Monsanto attorneys on Monday sought to nix the sprayer demonstration plan, arguing that it would “invite the jury to make anysort of speculation about how the use of the sprayer could haveinfluenced exposure…” but Chhabria sided with Hardeman’s lawyers, saying he would allow a brief demonstration with the sprayer. He even made a bit of a joke:
THE COURT: I mean, one helpful bit of guidance I canprovide now is that the Plaintiffs are not allowed to spray youwith the sprayer. MS. MATTHEWS (Monsanto attorney): Okay. THE COURT: And they are definitely not allowed tospray me with the sprayer.
In another move applauded by Hardeman’s legal team, Chhabria said Monday that testimony about the “Parry report” can be presented to jurors. Monsanto objected but the judge agreed with plaintiff’s counsel that “the door has been opened to the Parry report” by Monsanto’s efforts to contest evidence of genotoxicity with glyphosate herbicides. Dr. James Parry was a consultant hired by Monsanto in the 1990s to weigh in on genotoxicity concerns being raised at the time by outside scientists. Parry’s report recommended that Monsanto do additional studies to “clarify the potential genotoxic activity” of glyphosate.
THE COURT: Okay. Well, Monsanto has a report from a doctor that it hired that — that raised concerns about the genotoxicity of glyphosate.So it seems to me that you are — you have already saidsomething to the jury — even before we get to your second point, you have already said something to the jury that iscontradicted to a degree by an internal Monsanto document. Andso why shouldn’t they be able to cast doubt on Monsanto’sassertion to the jury that genotox doesn’t matter byestablishing that Monsanto hired a doctor to — or hired an expert to look at the issue of genotoxicity in the late ’90sand the expert raised concerns about genotoxicity? … I mean, Monsanto itself investigated genotox –hired somebody to investigate genotox, and that personconcluded that genotox — that it’s possibly genotoxic.
After Hardeman’s testimony, next up with be expert witness Dennis Weisenburger, professor of the Pathology Department of the City of Hope Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
March 4, 2019: Cancer Victim to Take the Stand (Not.)
Plaintiff Edwin Hardeman was scheduled to take the stand today along with expert witness Dennis Weisenburger, professor of the Pathology Department of the City of Hope Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
But one juror apparently is too ill to endure the long trial day so testimony is being postponed.
Weisenburger, who specializes in the study of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), was a key witness for the general pool of plaintiffs a year ago when he testified before Judge Vince Chhabria as the judge weighed then whether or not to let the mass of Roundup cancer claims move forward. Weisenburger has published over 50 papers in peer-reviewed journals about the causes of NHL.
Before news of the trial delay, plaintiffs had expected to rest their case on Tuesday, with Monsanto’s witnesses taking the stand by Wednesday. The whole first phase of the trial was expected to have been concluded by Friday or Monday, lawyers said.
The case will only move into a second phase if the jurors first agree that Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup was the cause of his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hardeman used Roundup from to treat weeds and overgrowth on a 56-acre property he and his wife owned in Sonoma County. He reported using Roundup and/or related Monsanto brands from 1986 to 2012. Hardeman was diagnosed with B-cell NHL in February of 2015.
Without the jury present the judge focused on discussion of several pieces of evidence Hardeman’s attorneys want to introduce in the first phase, arguing that Monsanto “opened the door” to evidence that otherwise was not allowed. See the plaintiff’s discussion of introducing evidence related to a controversial mouse study from the 1980s, and evidence pertaining to genotoxicity concerns raised by a Monsanto consultant, and in contrast,Monsanto’s position on the mouse study and the genotoxicity issue.
People around the world are following the trial proceedings, and the judge’s decision last week to sanction Hardeman’s lead attorney Aimee Wagstaff reportedly triggered a flood of emails from lawyers and other individuals offering support and expressing outrage at the judge’s action.
Here is an interesting tidbit to chew on over the weekend. In light of Judge Vince Chhabria’s unusual handling of the first Roundup cancer lawsuit to come to trial in federal court, (see previous entries for bifurcation and other background) and the vitriol with which he has been addressing plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s legal counsel, many observers have asked – what gives? The bifurcation, his decision to sanction plaintiff’s lead counsel, his threat to dismiss the case entirely, and his repeated comments about how “shaky” the plaintiffs’ evidence is, obviously appear to favor Monsanto’s defense, at least in the early stages of the trial.Could there be some connection between Chhabria and Monsanto?
Chhabria has a pretty stellar background. Born and raised in California, he obtained his law degree in 1998 from theUniversity of California, Berkeley School of Law, graduatingwith honors. He served as law clerkfor two federal judges and for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and worked as an associate for two law firms before joining the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office where he worked from 2005 to 2013. He was nominated by President Obama for the seat he holds now in the summer of 2013.
But interestingly, one of those law firms where Chhabria worked has raised eyebrows.Covington & Burling, LLP, is a well-known defender of a variety of corporate interests, including Monsanto Co. Covington was reportedly instrumental in helping Monsanto defend itself against dairy industry concerns over the company’s synthetic bovine growth hormone supplement, known as rBGH (for recombinant bovine growth hormone) or the brand name Posilac.
Chhabria worked at the firm between 2002-2004, a time period when Monsanto’s legal battle over Posilac was in high gear.The firm was reportedly involved in the issuein part by “sending letters to virtually all U.S. dairy processors, warning that they faced potential legal consequences if they labeled their consumer products as “rbGH-Free.”
Covington is perhaps best known for its work for the tobacco industry. A judge in Minnesota in 1997 ruled that the firm was willfully disregarding court orders to turn over certain documents pertaining to claims that the tobacco industry engaged in a 40-year conspiracy to mislead the public about the health impacts of smoking and hide damaging scientific research from public view.
Shortly before Obama selected Chhabria for his federal judgeship, an array of former Covington & Burling attorneys took spots in the administration, including Attorney General Eric Holder and deputy chief of staff Daniel Suleiman. It was reported that employees of the law firm contributed more than $340,000 to Obama’s campaign.
Chhabria’s tenure at Covington was short, to be sure. There is no apparent evidence Chhabria ever represented Monsanto’s interests directly. But he is also no stranger to the world of corporate power and influence.How those dots connect in this case is so far unclear.
February 28, 2019: Trial Takes a Day Off
Thursdays are ‘dark’ days for the Roundup cancer trial, meaning lawyers, jurors and witnesses have a day to catch their breath and regroup. And after the fast and furious first three days of the trial, they probably can use the break.
After losing another juror on Wednesday morning, the trial proceeded with the testimony of plaintiff’s expert witness and former U.S. government scientist Christopher Portier. The testimony was provided via a video recorded in Australia last week.
During an afternoon break in Portier’s testimony, Judge Chhabria took a few moments to explain himself for certain comments he made to plaintiff’s lead counsel Aimee Wagstaff on Tuesday before sanctioning her for what he said was misconduct in her opening statement to the jury. (see prior blog entries for details.)
The following is a brief excerpt:
THE COURT: Before we bring in the jury, I want to make a quick statement to Ms. Wagstaff. I was reflecting on the OSC hearing last night, and I wanted to clarify one thing. I gave a list of reasons why I thought your conduct was intentional, and one of those reasons was that you seemed to have prepared yourself in advance for — that you would get a hard time for violating the pretrial rulings. In explaining that, I used the word “steely,” and I want to make clear what I meant by that. I was using steely as an adjective for steeling yourself, which is to make yourself ready for something difficult and unpleasant. My point was that I perceived no surprise on your part; and since lawyers typically seem surprised when they are accused of violating pretrial rulings, that was relevant to me on the issue of intent. But “steely” has another meaning as well, which is far more negative. And I want to assure you that that’s not the meaning that I was using nor was I suggesting anything about your general character traits. So I know you continue to disagree with my ruling and my findings about intent, but I wanted to make that point very clear. MS. WAGSTAFF: Thank you, Your Honor.
February 27, 2019: Judicial Threats and Judge Jokes
(UPDATE – Another juror has just been dismissed. One of the seven women jurors has been dismissed in morning proceedings. That leaves one man and six women. A total of six jurors are required and all must be unanimous in their verdict.)
As day three opens in the first federal trial over claims that Monsanto’s Roundup products can cause cancer, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has made it clear that he has no fondness for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s legal team.
Chhabria on Tuesday issued a ruling sanctioning Hardeman’s lead counsel Aimee Wagstaff for what the judge deemed as “several acts of misconduct,” fining her $500 and ordering her to provide a list of all others on her team who participated in drafting her opening statement so that those lawyers may also be sanctioned.
At issue – various remarks made by Wagstaff that Judge Chhabria thought exceeded the tight restrictions he has placed on what evidence the jury can hear. Chhabria wants jurors to hear only about scientific evidence without context about Monsanto’s conduct seeking to influence the scientific record and knowledge of certain scientific findings. Additionally, even though there were no restrictions in place pertaining to the introduction of plaintiff Hardeman to the jury, the judge took issue with Wagstaff’s manner of introduction and description of how he came to learn he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In Monday’s proceedings the judge made his anger at Wagstaff clear, interrupting her multiple times as she addressed the jury and ordering her to alter her presentation. He also instructed the jury more than once not to consider what Wagstaff said as evidence.
In court on Tuesday he chastised Wagstaff and said that he knew her actions were intentionally aimed at flouting his directives because she did not wither under his “coming down hard on her” in court Monday during her opening statement.
Below is a portion of those proceedings from Tuesday.(References to Moore mean Jennifer Moore, who is co-counsel on the Hardeman case.)
THE COURT: All arrows point to this being bad faith, including, by the way, Ms. Wagstaff’s reactions to the objections. She was clearly ready for it. She clearly braced herself for the fact that I was going to come down hard on her. And she was — to her credit perhaps, she was very steely in her response to my coming down hard on her because she knew it was coming and she braced herself for that.
MS. MOORE: Well, I — Your Honor, I don’t think that is not fair; and that is based on assumptions on the Court’s part.
THE COURT: That is based on my observations of body language and facial expressions.
MS. WAGSTAFF: Well, actually, Your Honor, I would just like to talk about that for just one moment. The fact that I can handle you coming down in front of a jury should not be used against me. I have been coming in front of you now for, what, three years. So I’m used to this communication back and forth. And the fact that I was prepared for anything that you had to say to me — and that you interrupted my opening statement a few times in a row — should not be used against me. The fact that I have composure when you are attacking me, it should not be used against me.
THE COURT: I was not attacking you. I was enforcing the rules, the pretrial rules.
MS. WAGSTAFF: You just said the fact that I was able to compose myself is evidence of intent, and that is just not fair.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys in the case believe that the judge’s directive to separate the trial into two phases and sharply limit the evidence they can present to the jury is extremely favorable to Monsanto and prejudicial to their ability to meet the burden of proof in the case. They also say that the judge’s guidance on what evidence can come in and what cannot is confusing. And they point out that Monsanto’s attorney also in opening statements introduced evidence that was banned by the judge, though he was not sanctioned.
THE COURT: And that is — that is relevant to intent. That is relevant to bad faith. The fact that the Plaintiffs have made so clear that they are so desperate to get this information into Phase One is evidence that it was not just a mistake that they happen to put this information in their opening statements.
MS. MOORE: Your Honor, I did not say we were desperate. What I was trying to explain is that the way the trial is set up is unusual. And I think, Your Honor, that you recognize that after the bifurcation order came out; that this is a unique situation where you limit a trial when we are talking about product case like this to only science in the first phase, and it has created confusion on both sides of the aisle.
That’s for sure.
Joke of the day – told to me by a lawyer who wishes to remain unnamed:
Q: “Who is Monsanto’s best lawyer?”
A: “Judge Chhabria.”
February 25, 2019: Reporting From Court(tweets transcribed here in reverse chronology)
3:30 p.m. –Jury is dismissed by judge but lawyers in Roundup cancer trial still discussing how evidence can or can’t be used. He’s still furious over plaintiff’s lawyer Aimee Wagstaff daring to talk about 1983 @EPA dox showing cancer concerns with glyphosate.
Judge is ripping into Aimee Wagstaff again saying he wants to sanction her $1,000 and maybe the whole plaintiff’s legal team as well. Calling her actions “incredibly dumb.”
2:30p.m. post lunch updates:
As Monsanto Roundup cancer trial resumes, plaintiff’s expert witness Beate Ritz talks to jurors about risk ratios, confidence intervals & statistical significance of cancer science. Touts the value of meta-analyses. @Bayer
Dr. Ritz is testifying about the various studies showing increased risk for cancer from glyphosate exposure.
Plaintiff Edwin Hardeman & his wife watch quietly, but during a break express frustration over how much Judge Chhabria has limited evidence the jury is hearing.
Sure-fire way to draw an objection from @Bayer Monsanto attorneys at Roundup cancer trial: mention @IARCWHO scientific classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.
Day one of @Bayer Monsanto Roundup cancer trial concludes after lengthy testimony from scientist Beate Ritz walking jurors through research that shows risks of NHL from exposure to glyphosate herbicides. Judge thanks jurors for being attentive; tells them to stay away from media.
Only one day in and Roundup cancer trial is losing a juror. One of the two men on jury claims work hardship; he can’t afford to lose paycheck. That leaves 7 women and 1 man to decide case. Verdict must be unanimous for plaintiff to win.
11:10 a.m. Monsanto/Bayer wraps up its opening and now preparing for first witness, plaintiff scientist Beate Ritz. More updates from opening statement:
Plaintiff’s attorney calls for sidebar as those statements were barred by pre-trial orders but judge overrules her.
Now Monsanto attorney shows chart saying while glyphosate use has increased over decades, rates of NHL have not. He then says that despite @IARCWHO classification as glyphosate as probable carcinogen @EPA & foreign regulators disagree.
Defense attorney for Monsanto @Bayer on a roll; telling jurors all about the Agricultural Health Study, which showed no ties between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Lawyer makes point Monsanto had nothing to do with the study.
10:45 a.m.Now it’s @Bayer Monsanto’s turn for opening statements – attorney Brian Stekloff tells jury “Roundup did not cause Mr. Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”
Judge just orders another Monsanto @Bayer slide removed, interrupting defense attorney opening statement. Playing hardball with both sides.
Plaintiff’s attorney objects to one of Monsanto attorneys slides; judge agrees and slide is removed. Defense attorney making case that Hardeman’s history of Hepatitis C likely to blame for his NHL.
He tells jurors NHL is common type of cancer and most NHL victims are not Roundup users; there is no test a doctor can run to tell a patient his disease was or was not caused by Roundup.
10:15 updates on opening remarks of plaintiff’s attorney Aimee Wagstaff:
Judge now threatening to sanction plaintiff’s attorney and pondering if he should refuse to allow jury to see the plaintiff’s slides. @Bayer Monsanto lawyer says yes. Aimee asks to address his concern; judge cuts her off.
Judge now dismisses jury for break and then RIPS into plaintiff’s attorney – says she has “crossed the line” and is “totally inappropriate” in her opening statements. Says this is her “final warning.” Never a dull moment at the @BayerMonsanto Roundup cancer trial.
Judge also tells her to “move on” when she tries to explain that @EPAonly assesses glyphosate and not whole product.
She is allowed brief mention of @IARCWHOclassification of glyphosate as probable human carcinogen but judge cuts her off before she can say much.
In opening statement for @BayerMonsanto Roundup cancer trial plaintiff’s attorney points to new meta-analysis showing compelling ties to cancer (see Guardian story).
In opening statement for Roundup cancer trial plaintiff’s attorney reads from 1980s-era @EPAmemo “glyphosate is suspect” & goes through the story of how Monsanto engineered a reversal of EPA concerns. Jurors look a little confused by all this science stuff.
9:35 a.m. Now plaintiff attorney telling the story of the 1983 mouse study that caused @EPAscientists to find glyphosate cancer causing… before Monsanto convinced them not to. oops. Judge cuts her off again. Sidebar. @BayerMonsanto has to love this. For more on the 1983 mouse study, see 2017 article, “Of Mice, Monsanto and a Mysterious Tumor.“
9:30 a.m. The main theme this morning is the judge is giving no leeway to the plaintiff’s attorney, via @careygillam:
8:49 a.m. Judge Chhabria is showing an early tight rein on this Roundup cancer trial. He stopped plaintiff’s attorney Aimee Wagstaff within minutes of her opening for a sidebar. Wagstaff opened by introducing the wife of the plaintiff, and began telling the story of their life and Hardeman finding the lump in his neck. The judge interrupted to tell Wagstaff to stick to comments dealing with causation only.
8:10 a.m. “Court is now in session”. Courtroom is packed for opening statements in Roundup cancer trial. Right off the bat, Monsanto Bayer, and plaintiff’s attorneys are already in conflict over evidence to be introduced.
8:00 a.m. And we’re off. Six months after a California jury decided Monsanto’s weed killers caused a groundskeeper’s cancer,another California jury is getting ready to hear similar arguments against Monsanto.
This time the case is being heard in federal court, not state court. Importantly, the judge has agreed with a request from Monsanto to try the case in two phases with evidence of potential negligent and deceptive conduct by Monsanto withheld during the first phase to allow the jury to focus solely on evidence pertaining to the question of whether or not the company’s products were to blame for the plaintiff’s cancer.
Plainitiff Edwin Hardeman suffers from B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which was diagnosed in February 2015, one month before the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and other herbicide brands, as a “probable human carcinogen.
Hardeman used Roundup products regularly to treat weeds and overgrowth on a 56-acre tract he owned in Sonoma County. Documents filed in federal court pertaining to the Hardeman trial can be found here.
Seven women and two men were selected as jurors to hear the Hardeman case. The judge has said the case should run through the end of March. Yesterday Judge Chhabria denied Monsanto a motion for summary judgement.
February 20, 2019: Jury Selected
Lawyers wasted no time Wednesday in selecting the jury for next week’s trial start. The jury is made up of 7 women and two men. For plaintiff Edwin Hardeman to win his case, the jury verdict must be unanimous.
The case is being tried in two phases. If jurors do not find in favor of the plaintiff in the first phase there will be no second phase. See below, January 10, 2019 post, for more explanation on the difference in the two phases.
Ahead of the trial lawyers for both sides have filed a joint list of exhibits they plan to introduce, or “may” introduce, as evidence during the proceedings. The list runs 463 pages and includes records ranging from decades-old EPA memos and email exchanges with Monsanto to more recent scientific studies.
February 19, 2019: Last-Minute Moves
With less than a week to go before opening statements in the Feb. 25 federal civil trial over accusations that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killers cause cancer, lawyers for both sides were readying for jury selection that starts Wednesday.
In pre-trial proceedings lawyers for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman and the legal team representing Monsanto, now a unit of Bayer AG, have already been arguing over jury selection based solely on written responses provided by prospective jurors, and many have already been stricken by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria for cause.
On Wednesday, attorneys will question the prospective jurors in person. Monsanto’s attorneys are particularly concerned about potential jurors who know about the case that Monsanto lost last summer. In that trial, plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson won a unanimous jury verdict on claims similar to Hardeman’s – that Monsanto’s herbicides caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto failed to warn of the risks. Johnson was awarded $289 million by jurors, but the judge in the case reduced the verdict to $78 million.
The stakes in this case are high. The first loss hit Bayer hard; its share price is down nearly 30 percent since the verdict and investors remain skittish. Another loss in court could provide another blow to the company’s market capitalization, particularly because there are roughly 9,000 other plaintiffs waiting for their day in court.
In preparation for the trial opening on Monday morning, Judge Chhabria saidin a Feb. 15 hearing that he will separate out all jury candidates on a Monsanto list who say they have heard about the Johnson case for specific questioning about their knowledge of that case.
Among those already stricken from the jury pool based on their written questionnaires were several people who indicated they had negative perceptions about Monsanto. While the judge agreed with Monsanto’s request to remove those people from the jury pool, he refused a request from plaintiff’s attorneys to strike a prospective juror who said the opposite – the juror wrote that he feels that “they (Monsanto) typically are very honest and helpful to society,” and said he believed Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide was safe.
Judge Chhabria said “I didn’t think anyone in the Bay Area felt that way….”
In other pre-trial action, lawyers from both sides were in Australia preparing for testimony from plaintiff’s expert witness Christopher Portier. Portier is providing video-recorded testimony in advance with direct and cross-examination. He was scheduled to be in court in person for the trial but suffered a heart attack in January and has been advised against the long air travel that would be required to appear in person.
Portier is one of the plaintiff’s star witnesses. He is former director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and a former scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
In other pre-trial action, Judge Chhabria ruled on Monday on motions from both parties dealing with what evidence would be allowed in and what would be excluded. Chhabria has ruled that there will be a first phase of the trial in which evidence will be limited to causation. If the jury does find that Monsanto’s products caused Hardeman’s cancer there will be a second phase in which evidence may be introduced pertaining to the allegations by plaintiff’s attorneys that Monsanto has engaged in a cover-up of the risks of its products.
Evidence the plaintiff’s attorneys say shows Monsanto engaged in ghostwriting scientific literature is excluded for the first phase of the trial.
Evidence or Monsanto’s marketing materials is excluded for both phases.
Comparisons between Monsanto and the tobacco industry are excluded.
An email from Monsanto discussing work with the American Council on Science and Health is excluded from the first phase.
Arguments that glyphosate is needed to “feed the world” are excluded for both phases.
Certain EPA documents are excluded.
An analysis by the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifying glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen is “restricted.”
One piece of evidence plaintiff’s attorneys plan to introduce is a new meta-analysis A broad new scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides. The study found that people with high exposures to the herbicides have a 41% increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
The study authors, top scientists who the Environmental Protection Agency has used as advisers, said the evidence“supports a compelling link” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk for NHL.
February 8, 2019: Evidence and Issues – With the high-stakes, first federal Roundup cancer trial fast approaching on Feb. 25, lawyers for Monsanto – and its owner Bayer AG – have laid out a long list of evidence and issuesthey do not want introduced at trial.
Among the things the company does not want presented at trial are the following: Mentions of other litigation against Monsanto; evidence regarding the company’s public relations activities; comparisons to the tobacco industry; information about the company’s association with “controversial products” such as Agent Orange and PCBs; information about Monsanto’s “wealth”; and information about “Bayer’s role in World War II.”
None of the evidence Monsanto wants excluded at trial has any bearing on whether or not its herbicides caused the plaintiff’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the company’s attorneys told the judge.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys have their own list of things they’d rather not be presented to the jury. Among them: Information about attorney advertising for plaintiffs in the Roundup litigation; the “unrelated medical history” of plaintiff Edwin Hardeman; and evidence about foreign regulatory decisions.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 6 both parties filed a “joint trial exhibit list” detailing each and every piece of evidence they plan to present – or may present – to the jury. The list runs 314 pages and includes a host of internal Monsanto documents as well as regulatory documents, scientific studies, and reports by various expert witnesses.
Bayer added another member to the Monsanto Roundup defense team. On Feb. 8, Shook Hardy & Bacon attorney James Shepherd filed his notice of appearance in the Roundup Products Liability Litigation in federal court. Shepherd has defended Bayer against various lawsuits, including claims alleging injuries tied to Bayer’s cholesterol-lowering medication, and allegations of harm from an intrauterine device (IUD).
As well, both sides recently filed a joint list of exhibits each plan to introduce at trial, including depositions, photographs, emails, regulatory documents, scientific studies and more. The list runs 320 pages.
Judge Vince Chhabria indicated in a Feb. 4 hearing that if the jury finds for the plaintiff in the first phase of the bifurcated trial, meaning if the jury determines that Monsanto’s herbicides were a cause of Edwin Hardeman’s cancer, the second phase of the trial will begin the following day. That second phase will focus on Monsanto’s conduct and any potential punitive damages.
January 29, 2019 – We are less than a month away from the start of the first federal trialin the Roundup products liability litigation, and both sides are loading up the court files with scores of pleadings and exhibits. Included in recent filings are several noteworthy internal Monsanto documents. A few are highlighted below. A more complete posting of the court documents can be found on the main USRTK Monsanto Papers page.
Get up and shout for glyphosate:Internal Monsanto emails written in 1999 detail the company’s “scientific outreach” work and efforts to develop a global network of “outside scientific experts who are influential at driving science, regulators, public opinion, etc.” The plan called for having people “directly or indirectly/behind the scenes” working on Monsanto’s behalf. The company wanted “people to get up and shout Glyphosate is Non-toxic,” according to the email thread. For the plan to work they “may have to divorce Monsanto from direct association with the expert or we will waste the $1,000/day these guys are charging.”
This intriguing email thread from January 2015 discusses a retired Monsanto plant worker who reported to the company that he had been diagnosed with Hairy cell leukemia, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He wrote that he had “irregular blood counts” before he retired, and he wondered if his diagnosis was “related to working around all of the chemicals” at the company’s plant. The company’s “adverse effects team” reviewed his case and a Monsanto “health nurse” told him they had not found an association between his “medical condition” and the chemicals at the plant where he worked. They also indicate in the email thread that there is no need to notify EPA. One email dated Nov. 21, 2014 written broadly to “Monsanto Employees” from the adverse effects team lets employees know that although the EPA requires the reporting of information about adverse effects of pesticide products such as injury or health problems, employees should not notify EPA themselves if they become aware of any such problems. Employees should “immediately forward” information to the company’s adverse effects unit instead.
Did Monsanto Collaborate on AHS Study? Monsanto and new owner Bayer repeatedly have sought to counter scores of studies showing ties between glyphosate herbicides and cancer by touting one study – an update to the U.S. government-backed Agricultural Health Study (AHS) that found no ties between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The AHS is a foundational part of the company’s defense in the Roundup products liability litigation. But there have been many questions about the timing of the AHS update, which raced through peer review much faster than is normal for papers in peer-reviewed journals. The update was released to the public on the morning of Nov. 9, 2017 – the same day as a critical court hearing in the Roundup cancer litigation. It was cited by Monsanto at that hearing as a “significant development” and a reason to delay proceedings. A May 11, 2015 internal Monsanto “Proposal for Post-IARC Meeting Scientific Projects” discusses the potential for an “AHS Collaboration.” Monsanto called the proposal “most appealing” as it would appear that Monsanto was “somewhat distanced” from the study.
Despite much talk about “800 studies” showing the safety of glyphosate Monsanto acknowledged in a court filingthat it “has not identified any 12 month or longer chronic toxicity studies that it has conducted on glyphosate containing formulations that were available for sale in the United States of as June 29, 2017.”
Separate news of note –Plaintiffs’ expert scientific witness Dr. Christopher Portier will not be coming to San Francisco to testify at the trial as planned. Portier suffered a heart attack while traveling in Australia earlier in January and is still recovering.
And in a move welcomed by plaintiffs’ attorneys, U.S. Judge Vincent Chhabria on Monday said that he may allow some evidence about Monsanto’s alleged ghostwriting of scientific studies into the first phase of the upcoming trial despite Monsanto’s efforts to keep the evidence out until and unless a second phase of the trial occurs. Evidence of Monsanto’s efforts to influence regulators and scientists may also be allowed in the first phase, Chhabria said. Chhabria has ordered that the trial be bifurcated, meaning that the first phase will deal only with the allegation of causation. If the jury does find that Monsanto’s herbicides caused plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s cancer, then a second phase would be held to explore Monsanto’s conduct.
January 18, 2019 —Time flies when a big case approaches.U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has set an evidentiary hearing for Jan. 28 at 9 a.m. local time in federal court in San Francisco to be followed by a “Daubert” hearing that day at 2 p.m. The hearings are to consider evidence and experts that will be key to the first-ever federal trial taking up claims that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides can cause cancer and Monsanto has covered up the risks. Video recording of the proceedings is being allowed.
Chhabria has taken the unusual step of agreeing with a request from the attorneys representing Monsanto and its owner Bayer AG to bifurcate the trial. The first phase, per Monsanto’s request, will deal only with evidence relevant causation – if its products caused the cancer suffered by plaintiff Edwin Hardeman. Evidence of Monsanto efforts to manipulate regulators and the scientific literature and “ghost write” various articles would only be presented in a second phase of the trial if jurors in the first phase find the herbicides were a substantial factor in causing Hardeman’s cancer.
The parties are in disagreement over exactly what evidence should be allowed in the causation phase.
Monsanto specifically has asked the judge to exclude from evidence:
A 2001 email detailing internal discussions regarding an independent epidemiology study published that year.
A 2015 internal email regarding the company’s relationship with and funding of the American Council on Science and Health, a group that purports to be independent of industry as its promotes safety messaging about glyphosate products.
A 2015 email chain including internal commentary by Monsanto scientist Bill Heydens about the role surfactants play in glyphosate formulated products.
For point 1, attorneys for Hardeman have said they do not intend to try to introduce the evidence “unless the door is opened by Monsanto.”
For point 2, they also said they do not intend to introduce the ACSH correspondence “unless Monsanto in any way relies on the ACSH’s junk science positions regarding the carcinogenicity” of glyphosate-based formulations “or attacks on IARC’s classification of glyphosate.”
As for the 2015 Heydens email chain, attorney’s for Hardeman argue the correspondence is illuminating to the causation question. Heydens’ email refers to the results of a 2010 study referred to as George et al., which found a statistically significant increase of tumors on the skin of rodents following exposure to a formulated Roundup product. The study is one relied upon by plaintiffs’ general causation experts.
The letter brief laying out the positions by opposing parties is here.
In a separate issue – the ongoing government shut-down could impact the Feb. 25 trial date for the Hardeman case. Judge Chhabria has said that he does not intend to ask jurors to sit in a trial without being paid.
January 16, 2019 – (UPDATED Feb. 9, 2019) New documents filed in federal court are threatening to expose Reuters news reporter Kate Kelland for acting as Monsanto’s puppet in driving a false narrative about cancer scientist Aaron Blair and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.
In 2017, Kelland authored a controversial story attributed to “court documents,” that actually appears to have been fed to her by a Monsanto executive who helpfully provided several key points the company wanted made. The documents Kelland cited were not filed in court, and not publicly available at the time she wrote her story but writing that her story was based on court documents allowed her to avoid disclosing Monsanto’s role in driving the story.
When the story came out, it portrayed cancer scientist Aaron Blair as hiding “important information” that found no links between glyphosate and cancer from IARC. Kelland wrote that Blair “said the data would have altered IARC’s analysis” even though a review of the full deposition shows that Blair did not say that.
Kelland provided no link to the documents she cited, making it impossible for readers to see for themselves how far she veered from accuracy.
The story was picked up by media outlets around the world, and promoted by Monsanto and chemical industry allies. Google advertisements were even purchased promoting the story.
Now, new information revealed in court filings indicates just how heavy Monsanto’s hand was in pushing the narrative. In a January 15 court filing, Plaintiff’s attorneys cited internal Monsanto correspondence dated April 27, 2017 they say show that Monsanto executive Sam Murphey sent the desired narrative to Kelland with a slide deck of talking points and portions of the Blair deposition that was not filed in court. The attorneys said the correspondence shows the Monsanto executive asking her to publish an article accusing Dr. Blair of deceiving IARC.
Monsanto and Bayer lawyers have tried to keep the correspondence with Kelland sealed from public view, and some of the emails between the Reuters reporter and Monsanto still have not been released.
Plaintiff’s attorneys also write in their letter brief that Monsanto’s internal documents show Kelland was seen as a a key media contact in their efforts to discredit IARC.
There is nothing inherently wrong in receiving story suggestions that benefit companies from the companies themselves. It happens all the time. But reporters must be diligent in presenting facts, not corporate propaganda.
At the very least, Kelland should have been honest with readers and acknowledged that Monsanto was her source. Reuters owes the world – and IARC – an apology.For more background on this topic, see this article.
January 10, 2019 –For those wanting more details on the reasoning and ramifications of a federal court judge’s decision to limit large volumes of evidence related to Monsanto’s internal communications and conduct from the first federal trial, this transcriptof the Jan. 4 hearing on the matter is informative.
Here is an exchange between plaintiff’s attorney Brent Wisner and Judge Vince Chhabria that illustrates the frustration and fear plaintiff’s attorneys have over the limitation of their evidence to direct causation, with much of the evidence dealing with Monsanto’s conduct and internal communications restricted. The judge has said that evidence would only come in at a second phase of the trial if jurors in a first phase find that Monsanto’s Roundup products directly contributed substantially to the plaintiff’s cancer.
WISNER: Here is a great example: Monsanto’s chief toxicologist,
Donna Farmer, she writes in an e-mail: We can’t say Roundup
doesn’t cause cancer. We have not done the necessary testing
on the formulated product.
THE COURT: That would not come in — my gut reaction
is that that would not come in in the first phase.
WISNER: So that is literally Monsanto’s chief
toxicologist — a person who has more knowledge about Roundup
than anyone else in the world — saying —
THE COURT: The question is whether it causes cancer,
not whether — not Farmer’s opinion on what Monsanto can say or
not say. It is about what the science actually shows.
WISNER: Sure. She is literally talking about the
science that they didn’t do.
THE COURT: My gut is that that is actually really a
fairly easy question, and the answer to that fairly easy
question is that that doesn’t come in in the first phase.”
January 9, 2019 – The first federal trial in the Roundup Products Liability Litigation may still be more than a month away, but the calendar is busy for attorneys on both sides. See below the schedule set by the judge in an order filed yesterday:
PRETRIAL ORDER NO. 63: UPCOMING DEADLINES FOR BELLWETHER TRIAL.
Evidentiary Hearing set for 1/28/2019 09:00 AM in San Francisco, Courtroom 04, 17th Floor before Judge Vince Chhabria.
Dr. Shustov’s Daubert Hearing set for 1/28/2019 02:00 PM in San Francisco, Courtroom 04, 17th Floor before Judge Vince Chhabria.
Jury Selection to complete the supplemental questionnaire in the jury office (not on the record or in court) set for 2/13/2019 08:30 AM in San Francisco.
Jury Selection (hardship and challenge cause hearing with counsel and Court) set for 2/15/2019 10:30 AM in San Francisco, Courtroom 04, 17th Floor before Judge Vince Chhabria.
January 7, 2019 – The new year is off to a strong start for Monsanto as the Bayer unit heads into its second trial over allegations that its Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer. In aJan. 3 ruling, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria rejected arguments by attorneys representing cancer victims and sided with Monsanto in deciding to block jurors from hearing a large portion of evidence that plaintiffs say shows efforts by Monsanto to manipulate and influence regulators in a first phase of the trial. In deciding to bifurcate the trial, Chhabria said that jurors will only hear such evidence if they first agree that Monsanto’s weed killer did significantly contribute to causing the plaintiff’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
“A significant portion of the plaintiffs’ case involves attacks on Monsanto for attempting to influence regulatory agencies and manipulate public opinion regarding glyphosate. These issues are relevant to punitive damages and some liability questions. But when it comes to whether glyphosate caused a plaintiff’s NHL, these issues are mostly a distraction, and a significant one at that,” the judge’s order states.
He did provide a caveat, writing, “if the plaintiffs have evidence that Monsanto manipulated the outcome of scientific studies, as opposed to agency decisions or public opinion regarding those studies, that evidence may well be admissible at the causation phase.”
Jury selection is set to begin Feb. 20 with the trial set to get underway on Feb. 25 in San Francisco. The case is Edwin Hardeman v. Monsanto.
Meanwhile, plaintiff Lee Johnson, who was the first cancer victim to take Monsanto to trial, winning a unanimous jury verdict against the company in August, has also won his request to the 1st District Court of Appeals for speedy handling of Monsanto’s appeal of that jury award. Monsanto opposed Johnson’s request for “calendar preference,” but the court granted the request on Dec. 27, giving Monsanto 60 days to file its opening brief.
December 20, 2018 – U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said on Thursday that he would not rule until January on the disputed issue of bifurcation of the first federal trial, which is set to get underway in February. Attorneys for plaintiffs and for Monsanto were ordered to file all of their experts’ reports by Friday, December 21 to help Chhabria in his decision.
December 18, 2018 –Monsanto/Bayer lawyers responded Friday to de-designation requests concerning several hundred internal Monsanto records, seeking to keep most of them sealed in opposition to requests from plaintiffs’ attorneys. Company lawyers did agree to the release of some internal documents, which could be made public this week.
In the meantime both sides are awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria on a motion made by Monsanto attorneys to reverse bifurcate the first federal court trial in the mass Roundup cancer litigation. That trial is set to begin Feb. 25 and is considered a bellwether that will set the stage for how and if other cases proceed and/or are resolved.
Monsanto would like the federal court trials to be conducted in two phases—a first phase focused on medical causation – did the company’s herbicides cause the specific plaintiff’s cancer – and a second phase to address liability only if plaintiffs prevail in the first phase.
The issues of causation and compensatory damages are “separate and distinct from Monsanto’s alleged negligence and company conduct and would involve testimony from different witnesses,” the company argued. Bifurcation would avoid “undue delay in resolving this case…”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys object to the bifurcation saying the idea is “unheard of” in modern multi district litigation (MDL), which is what Chhabria is overseeing. More than 600 lawsuits are pending in his court alleging that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused plaintiffs’ cancers, and Monsanto failed to warn consumers of the dangers of its products.
“It is simply never done, and for good reason,” plaintiffs’ attorneys argued in a Dec. 13 court filing. “The purpose of a bellwether trial is to allow each side to test their theories and evidence against a real-world jury and, hopefully, learn important information about the strengths and weaknesses of the case to inform collective resolution. Imposing a one-sided procedural hurdle—one that would be a de facto outlier for the 10,000 cases proceeding around the country—does not accomplish that goal. It renders any verdict in this MDL, no matter which side prevails, unhelpful.” The next hearing in the case is set for Jan. 4.
December 14, 2018 – Plaintiff Seeks Expedited Handling of Monsanto’s Appeal as His Health Deteriorates
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the first plaintiff to take Monsanto to trial alleging the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, is scheduled for surgery today to remove a new cancerous growth on one of his arms.
Johnson’s health has been deteriorating since the trial’s conclusion in August and an interruption in treatment due to a temporary lapse in insurance coverage. He has not received any funds from the litigation due to the appeals Monsanto instigated after Johnson court victory. Monsanto is appealing the verdict of $78 million, which was reduced by the trial judge from the jury’s award of $289 million.
Johnson filed notice with the court in October that he would accept the reduced award. But because Monsanto has appealed, Johnson’s attorneys have also filed an appeal, seeking to reinstate the jury award.
The California State Court of Appeals, 1st Appellate District, case number is A155940. Johnson’s attorneys are seeking expedited handling of the appeal and say they hope to have briefings completed by April. “There is… a strong likelihood that Mr. Johnson is going to die in 2019,” the plaintiff’s motion states. Johnson, who plans to restart immunotherapy after his surgery, is not necessarily in agreement.
“I hate to think about dying,” he said in an interview published in Time Magazine. “Even when I feel like I’m dying, I just make myself move past it. I feel like you can’t give in to it, the diagnosis, the disease, because then you really are dead. I don’t mess around with the death cloud, the dark thoughts, the fears. I’m planning for a good life.”
December 13, 2018 – More Monsanto Shoes (Documents) Set to Drop
The law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, which partnered with The Miller Firm in notching the historic victory for plaintiff Dewayne Lee Johnson over Monsanto in August, is seeking the de-designation of several hundred pages of internal Monsanto records that were obtained through discovery but have so far been kept sealed.
Baum Hedlund last year released hundreds of other internal Monsanto records that include emails, memos, text messages and other communications that were influential in the unanimous jury verdict finding Monsanto acted with “malice” by not warning customers of scientific concerns about its glyphosate-based herbicides. Jury sources say that those internal records were very influential in their $250 million punitive damage award against Monsanto, which the judge in the case reduced to $39 million for a total award of $78 million.
Attorneys for plaintiffs in two upcoming trials say that Monsanto records that have not been seen publicly before will be part of new evidence they plan to introduce at the trials.
Today is also the deadline for plaintiffs attorneys to respond to Monsanto’s motion to “reverse bifurcate” the Feb. 25 trial set for U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California. (see Dec. 11 entry below for more details)
December 12, 2018 – New Judge Appointed in Pilliod Case
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ioana Petrou, who has spent more than a year engaged in the Roundup cancer litigation and sat through many days of the presentation of scientific evidence by plaintiffs and defense experts in a federal court hearing in March 2017, is off the case. California Gov. Jerry Brown announced on November 21st that Petrou has been appointed associate justice, Division Three of the First District Court of Appeal.
Judge Winifred Smith has been named to replace Petrou to oversee the case of Pilliod V. Monsanto, which is scheduled to go to trial March 8 in Oakland, California. Smith was appointed by Governor Gray Davis in November 2000, and prior to her appointment, served as deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice in San Francisco.
The Pilliod case will be the third to go to trial in the sweeping Roundup mass tort litigation. Alva Pilliod and his wife Alberta Pilliod, both in their 70s and married for 48 years, allege that their cancers – forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – are due to their long exposure to Roundup. Their advanced ages and cancer diagnoses warrant a speedy trial, according to court filings by their attorneys. Monsanto opposed their request for the expedited trial date but Petrou found the couple’s illnesses and ages warranted preference. Alberta has brain cancer while Alva suffers from a cancer that has invaded his pelvis and spine. Alva was diagnosed in 2011 while Alberta was diagnosed in 2015. They used Roundup from roughly the mid -1970s until only a few years ago.
The Pilliod suit echoes others in claiming that “Monsanto led a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general public that Roundup was safe.”
December 11, 2018 – Attorneys Scramble Ahead of Next Trial
With the next trial in the mass Roundup cancer litigation set for Feb. 25 in San Francisco, attorneys for Monsanto and plaintiffs are scrambling to take more than two dozen depositions in the waning weeks of December and into January even as they debate how the trial should be organized.
Monsanto attorneys on Dec. 10 filed a motion to “reverse bifurcate” the next trial, Edwin Hardeman V. Monsanto (3:16-cv-00525). Monsanto wants the jury only to hear evidence focused on specific medical causation first – did its herbicide cause the plaintiff’s cancer – with a second phase that would address Monsanto’s liability and damages only necessary if the jury found in plaintiff’s favor in the first phase. See Monsanto’s argument here. Judge Chhabria granted a request from plaintiff’s attorneys to be allowed until Thursday to file their response.
Edwin Hardeman and his wife spent many years living on a 56-acre, former exotic animal refuge in Sonoma County, California where Hardeman routinely used Roundup products to treat overgrown grasses and weeds since the 1980s. He was diagnosed with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma in February 2015, just a month before the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen.
Hardeman’s case was selected as the first to be tried in federal court in San Francisco (Northern District of California) in front of Judge Vince Chhabria. Attorney Aimee Wagstaff of Denver, Colorado, is lead plaintiff’s counsel on the case. Attorney Brent Wisner of the Baum Hedlund law firm in Los Angeles, and the lawyer credited with leading the victory in Dewayne Lee Johnson’s historic August victory over Monsanto, had been expected to help try the case but now has another case scheduled to begin in March. That case is Pilliod, et al V. Monsanto in Alameda County Superior Court. See related documents on the Monsanto Papers main page.
Monsanto’s new owner Bayer AG is not content to rely on Monsanto’s trial team that lost the Johnson case and is bringing in its own legal defense team. The Bayer team, which helped the German company win litigation over the Xarelto blood thinner, now includes Pamela Yates and Andrew Solow of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and Brian Stekloff of Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz.
Hearings on specific causation issues are set in the Hardeman case for Feb. 4, 6, 11, and 13 with jury selection scheduled for Feb. 20. Opening arguments would then begin Feb. 25, according to the current schedule.
December 6, 2018 – Upcoming Monsanto Trial Dates
2/25/2019 – Federal Court – Hardeman
3/18/2019 – CA JCCP – Pilliod (2 plaintiffs)
4/1/2019 – St. Louis City Court – Hall
4/22/2019 – St. Louis County Court – Gordon
5/25/2019 – Federal Court – Stevick or Gebeyehou
9/9/2019 – St. Louis County Court – 4 plaintiffs
1/21/2020 – St. Louis City Court – 10 plaintiffs
3/23/2020 – St. Louis City Court
November 21, 2018 – Lee Johnson interview
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was the first person to take Monsanto to court alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company covered up the risks. In August 2018, a jury in San Francisco unanimously found that Monsanto had failed to warn about the carcinogenic dangers of Roundup herbicide and related products, and they awarded Johnson $289 million. A judge later reduced that amount to $78 million. Carey Gillam spoke with Johnson about the aftermath of his case in this interview for TIME magazine:I Won a Historic Lawsuit But May Not Get to Keep the Money
The former Monsanto Co., now owned by Bayer AG, notched its first win in the mass tort U.S. Roundup litigation on Tuesday, defeating at trial a mother who alleged her use of Roundup exposed her child to the pesticide and caused him to develop cancer.
Ezra Clark was born in May 2011 and diagnosed in 2016 with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that has a high tendency to spread to the central nervous system, and can also involve the liver, spleen and bone marrow, according to the court filings. Ezra’s mother, Destiny Clark, is the plaintiff in the case, which was heard in Los Angeles County Superior Court. A different Roundup trial is underway in San Bernardino County Superior Court.
Ezra Clark was “directly exposed” to Roundup many times as he accompanied his mother while she sprayed Roundup to kill weeds around the property where the family lived, according to court documents. Ezra has autism and his mother said it calmed him to play outdoors while she worked in the yard, which meant he often played in areas freshly sprayed with Roundup, according to the court filings.
Fletch Trammell, lead attorney for Clark, said his case was subject to a bifurcation order that organized the case into two phases. In the first phase he was limited to presenting evidence that focused on the child’s personal exposure to Roundup and whether or not it could have been enough to have contributed to his disease. The case would have proceeded to a second phase had the plaintiff won the first phase, but the loss in the first phases ends the trial.
“This was nothing like any of the other three trials,” Trammell said.
The jury was asked to address one key question in the first phase: Whether or not the child’s exposure to Roundup was a “substantial factor” in his development of Burkitt’s lymphoma.
In a 9 to 3 decision, the jury found that it was not.
Trammell said the jury decision was because the jury doubted the child’s exposure to Roundup could have been enough to cause cancer. The decision did not address the larger question of the alleged carcinogenicity of Roundup overall, he said.
But Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018 as the first Roundup trial was getting underway, said the jury’s decision was in line with scientific research showing glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is safe and does not cause cancer.
“The jury carefully considered the science applicable to this case and determined that Roundup was not the cause of his illness,” the company said in a statement.
During the trial, Trammel presented evidence indicating Ezra was exposed to Roundup for about 80 cumulative hours over the years his mother sprayed with him at her side. He paired that with research showing there could ben an increased risk of NHL associated with repeated spraying of glyphosate herbicides, such as Roundup. And he noted language on Roundup labels in Canada that advise users to wear protective gloves and avoid getting the chemical on bare skin.
“The studies… they show that Roundup does three different things when it gets to your
lymphocyte cells… It can kill cells, which is bad enough; but it also causes the exact DNA damage
that results in Burkitt’s lymphoma; it also, in a variety of ways, devastates your body’s ability to
repair DNA damage,” Trammell told jurors in his closing argument.
Trammell also sought to counter problems with deposition testimony given by Destiny Clark. Trammell said the mother also has suffered from cancer, a cervical cancer that metastasized to her brain. The illness and treatments she has undergone made it difficult for her to recall details and she “made a lot of mistakes” in the deposition she gave to Monsanto’s attorneys, Trammell told jurors. But she was very clear, he told jurors, on recalling her use of Roundup nearly “every weekend” when Ezra was young.
Monsanto attorney Brian Stekloff told jurors that Ezra’s exposure was in doubt. He told jurors that while they might have sympathy for the family, they could not ignore inconsistencies in Destiny Clark’s testimony about how often her son was exposed, and could not ignore statements by other family members that they did not see her spraying around Ezra.
“And there is an old adage or old saying, and it goes like this: The truth is simple because there’s nothing to remember,” Stekloff told jurors. “When you tell the truth, you don’t mix up the facts. It’s when it didn’t happen that you can’t remember what you said the first time and the next time, and the next time, and the next time. And the inconsistencies start piling up and piling up, and the explanations start coming and piling up and piling up. And that’s what you have seen here in this trial.”
Stekloff told jurors the evidence did not support a finding that exposure to Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his cancer.
“This is not a popularity contest. This is not a referendum on Monsanto. It’s not even a referendum on Roundup,” he said in his closing argument. “Roundup did not cause Ezra Clark’s Burkitt’s lymphoma.”
Clark is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed U.S. lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts in 2015 classified glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicides – as a probable human carcinogen with an association to NHL.
Monsanto lost each of the three previous trials, after lawyers for the plaintiffs presented jurors with multiple scientific studies finding potential health risks with glyphosate and Roundup The plaintiffs lawyers also used internal Monsanto documents as evidence, arguing the so-called “Monsanto Papers” showed intentional efforts by the company to manipulate regulators and control scientific research.
The jury in the last trial ordered $2 billion in damages though the award was later shaved to $87 million.
Bayer has maintained that there is no cancer risk with the glyphosate herbicides it inherited from Monsanto, but it has agreed to pay close to $14 billion to try to settle the litigation and said it will remove glyphosate products from the U.S. consumer market by 2023. The company will continue to sell the herbicides to farmers and other commercial users.
Mike Miller, who heads the Virginia law firm that won two of the three previously held Roundup trials, i but who was not involved in the Clark case, said the verdict does not change anything about the litigation, nor Bayer’s liability.
“Nothing about that verdict change the fact: Roundup causes cancer,” he said.
A senior scientist at the former Monsanto Co. on Tuesday told jurors in a California trial that regulators around the world support the company’s position that its glyphosate-based herbicides, such as the popular Roundup brand, are safe for users.
Donna Farmer, who worked as a toxicologist at Monsanto for more than two decades and now works at Monsanto owner Bayer AG, spent long hours testifying in the case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto. Farmer has been a key witness in the Stephens case and was quizzed intently for days by lawyers for Stephens before Monsanto’s lawyers took up the questioning.
Stephens is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed U.S. lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts in 2015 classified glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and other herbicides – as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The Stephens case is the fourth Roundup cancer lawsuit to go to trial and the first since 2019. Stephens suffers from non-Hodgkin lymphoma she blames on her use of Roundup herbicide for more than 30 years.
A chance to explain
Monsanto lawyer Monsanto lawyer Manuel Cachan questioned Farmer about several issues that were raised earlier by plaintiffs’ attorneys, telling Farmer it was her chance to explain details about several matters that Stephens’ lawyers had presented as evidence of Monsanto wrong-doing.
One such issue involved comments Farmer wrote in a 2003 email to colleagues about the importance of distinguishing between the chemical glyphosate and the Roundup formulation, which is made with glyphosate as the active ingredient.
In the email, Farmer wrote “The terms glyphosate and Roundup cannot be used interchangeably nor can you use “Roundup” for all glyphosate-based herbicides any more. For example you cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen… we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement. The testing on the formulations are not anywhere near the level of the active ingredient.”
Plaintiffs’ lawyers have pointed to that language as part of a broad argument disputing Monsanto’s contention that thorough testing of Roundup has demonstrated it does not cause cancer.
In testimony Tuesday, Farmer said that she merely was trying to be “very precise” when explaining to colleagues the distinctions between products. She was not indicating in the email that there was any question about whether or not Roundup might cause cancer, Farmer testified.
She pointed out that in that internal email she also wrote “there is no reason to believe that Roundup would cause cancer.”
And though it was true at that time that Monsanto had not conducted extensive carcinogenicity testing on Roundup formulations, that changed over time, Farmer testified.
“I think we’ve got a lot more studies on Roundup than we had, and so I think we have a lot more information about the Roundup formulations that still supports the conclusions and safety about the formulation,” Farmer told the jury.
A regulatory pass
At another point in the questioning by Monsanto’s lawyer, Farmer told jurors that regulators had never required the company to conduct animal carcinogenicity testing on Roundup. She said not only had the U.S. EPA not demanded such testing, but regulators in Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan had similarly not required any such animal testing on Roundup products.
She also told jurors that while it was true that Roundup products contain formaldehyde, it was a “very, very small amount” and posed no danger to human health. Regulators agreed there was no reason for concern, Farmer testified.
“We produce formaldehyde every day in our bodies,” said Farmer. “Small amounts of formaldehyde like in the formulations at those low levels do not present a health hazard to humans.”
Farmer’s testimony sought to rebut other points of evidence raised by Stephens’ lawyers, seeking to cast Monsanto as a responsible, science-based organization that has been the innocent target of activist-driven misinformation. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have twisted internal conversations seen in emails and other communications to confuse and mislead jurors, according to arguments by Monsanto attorneys.
Monsanto lost each of the three previous trials, after lawyers for the plaintiffs presented jurors with multiple scientific studies finding potential health risks with glyphosate and Roundup The plaintiffs lawyers also used internal Monsanto documents as evidence, arguing they showed intentional efforts by the company to manipulate regulators and control scientific research.
Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has settled other cases that had been scheduled to go to trial. And in 2020, the company said it would pay roughly $11 billion to settle about 100,000 existing Roundup cancer claims. Bayer also recently said it would set aside another $4.5 billion toward Roundup litigation liability.
To try to quell future litigation, Bayer said it would stop selling Roundup, and other herbicides made with the active ingredient glyphosate, to U.S. consumers by 2023. But the company continues to sell the products for use by farmers and commercial applicators.
EPA exposed for hiding chemical risks, favoring corporate interests
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a long and well-documented history of questionable conduct when it comes to regulation of chemicals important to the profit centers for many large and powerful corporations. Numerous examples show a pattern of agency actions that allow for the use of dangerous chemicals by consumers, farmers, groundskeepers and others despite evidence of harm.
Documents and other evidence, including information provided in public disclosures by multiple EPA scientists, reveals actions in which EPA managers have intentionally covered up risks associated with certain chemicals. According to the evidence from these EPA insiders, pressure from chemical manufacturers, chemical industry lobbyists and from certain U.S. lawmakers drives internal agency manipulations that protect corporate interests but endanger public health.
Evidence indicates the misconduct dates back decades and has occurred in administrations led by Democrats and Republican alike.
A research project sponsored by Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics said while the EPA has “many dedicated employees who truly believe in its mission,” the agency has been “corrupted by numerous routine practices,” including a “revolving door” between EPA and industry in which corporate lawyers and lobbyists gain positions of agency power; constant industry lobbying against environmental regulations; pressure from lawmakers who are beholden to donors; and meddling by the White House.
The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21 Century Act, signed into law on June 22, 2016, was the first substantive reform to Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The law requires EPA to make an affirmative determination on whether a new chemical substance presents an “unreasonable risk” to human health or the environment under “known, intended or reasonably foreseen conditions of use.” See information here.
Despite the law, the EPA has failed to make valid determinations about the risk presented by numerous chemicals.
In June 2021, four EPA scientists, each working within the agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and
Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), publicly accused the the EPA of deliberate tampering with chemical risk assessments. The four whistleblowers made their complaints public through a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In a June 28 letter to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, PEER said the four EPA scientists were providing “disturbing evidence of fraud and corruption,” involving “deliberate tampering with chemical risk assessments conducted under the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), including PFAS (a.k.a. “forever chemicals”), and the deletion of potential health effects without the knowledge or consent of the human health assessors.”
The letter further states:
“All four clients have experienced numerous instances where their risk assessments were changed by their managers or by colleagues in response to direction by management. These changes include – ● Deleting language identifying potential adverse effects, including developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, mutagenicity, and/or carcinogenicity; ● Major revisions that alter the report conclusions to indicate that there are no toxicity concerns despite data to the contrary; and ● Risk assessments being reassigned to inexperienced employees in order to secure their agreement to remove issues whose inclusion would be protective of human health.”
As a result of the manipulations, people who work with these chemicals are not receiving information they need to protect themselves, such as “proper handling procedures, personal protection needed, accidental release measures, and first aid and firefighting measures,” according to PEER.
This is a particular concern for pregnant women, according to the PEER complaint.
Erasing important information
On August 26, 2021, PEER filed a separate complaint alleging that the EPA has been breaking the law by erasing original versions of internal communications and draft documents and retaining only the final version of key documents. The practice violates the Federal Records Act by eliminating details of the decision-making process from outside review, according to PEER.
PEER states that that discarding of documents trails is not only contrary to law but also violates the EPA’s own records retention policy. According to PEER, its complaint focuses on two classes of documents:
Alterations of chemical risk assessments by managers in which both the identity of the manager and the alterations themselves are not apparent; and
Internal comments related to the development of its Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, in which EPA software overwrote the original and all prior versions any time there was an edit. Thus, only the “final” version was saved.
“It is as if EPA memorializes its internal decision-making in disappearing ink,” PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, said in a press release. “EPA’s record-keeping practices allow unknown officials to make changes while disguising what precisely was changed and who changed them.”
PEER said it has asked the National Archives and Records Administration to intervene to prevent the EPA from destroying more records and to adopt safeguards to prevent any recurrences.
The case of Ruth Etzel
Ruth Etzel, former director of the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP), filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board contending she was subject to illegal retaliation in 2018 and 2019. Etzel said the agency retaliated against her after she complained publicly about what she said was EPA resistance to stronger public protections against lead poisoning.
At the EPA it was Etzel’s job to determine the impacts of regulations on children. But she alleges she was improperly removed from her position after speaking out about EPA failures, and was assigned to a division where she was not allowed to work on prevention of lead poisoning.
Etzel is both a pediatrician and an epidemiologist and is recognized internationally as an expert on child health and the environment. She was named the 2021 winner of the Public Policy and Advocacy Award by the Academic Pediatric Association.
A senior scientist at the former Monsanto Co. told jurors in a California trial that the company’s Roundup herbicide is so safe that the scientist uses it regularly at her home, and suggests friends also use the weed killing product.
Donna Farmer, who worked as a toxicologist at Monsanto for more than two decades and now works at Monsanto owner Bayer AG, spent long hours testifying Monday and on multiple days last week in the case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto. The Stephens case is the fourth Roundup cancer lawsuit to go to trial and the first since 2019. Stephens suffers from non-Hodgkin lymphoma she blames on her use of Roundup herbicide for more than 30 years.
Stephens is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed U.S. lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts in 2015 classified glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicides – as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Monsanto lost each of the three previous trials, after lawyers for the plaintiffs presented jurors with multiple scientific studies finding potential health risks with glyphosate and Roundup The plaintiffs lawyers also used internal Monsanto documents as evidence, arguing the so-called “Monsanto Papers” showed intentional efforts by the company to manipulate regulators and control scientific research.
The jury in the last trial ordered $2 billion in damages though the award was later shaved to $87 million.
Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, insists there is no cancer risk with its glyphosate herbicides, but it has agreed to pay close to $14 billion to try to settle the litigation and said it will remove glyphosate products from the U.S. consumer market by 2023. The company will continue to sell the herbicides to farmers and other commercial users.
In testimony delivered under cross-examination by Stephens’ lawyer William Shapiro, Farmer was combative, going beyond answering the yes or no questions Shapiro posed to her in an effort to “explain” the context she said Shapiro was misrepresenting.
Shapiro quizzed Farmer about emails and documents dating back to the late 1990s that Shapiro presented as evidence that Farmer and other company scientists engaged in misconduct, including ghostwriting scientific papers to fraudulently assert the safety of its glyphosate-based herbicides and buried information that found cancer risk with the products.
On Monday, Monsanto lawyer Manuel Cachan questioned Farmer about many of the same pieces of evidence focused on by Shapiro, but cast the emails and other evidence as innocent exchanges that bear no signs of deceit or misconduct.
Under Cachan’s questioning, Farmer said that based on the science that she is familiar with, she does not believe glyphosate causes cancer, and is confident that Roundup is safe to use. She said that she is so certain of the safety of Roundup that she has used it around her yard for about 25 years. She does not wear gloves or special protective gear when spraying, she testified. Farmer said she has no worries about recommending the product to family members and friends.
Farmer said the phase-out for consumers is not due to any safety concerns and is being removed from consumer markets simply “because of the litigation and the lawsuits.” Farmer said she does not think the product should be withdrawn.
“The product is in my opinion – and not just my opinion but regulators around the world – the product is safe and is not a carcinogen,” Farmer testified.
Even after Bayer stops selling Roundup to consumers in 2023, Farmer said she plans to keep using it.
“It has a good shelf life so I’ll probably buy some extra bottles,” she said. “You can go to dealerships in farm country, you can buy some of the products there.”
Monsanto has been persecuted by an anti-pesticide movement, according to Farmer.
“There are a lot of people who don’t like pesticides. They don’t like glyphosate and quite frankly don’t like Monsanto. There are a lot of people who make allegations and spread misinformation about the safety of our products,” Farmer testified.
At one point in her testimony, Farmer weighed in on a nonprofit group and Monsanto critic called Beyond Pesticides, telling jurors that Beyond Pesticides was not a scientific group but rather an activist group that was “misrepresenting the science” about synthetic pesticides such as glyphosate.
“Their mission is to stop the use of synthetic pesticides and so what they publish is misinformation, inaccurate information about pesticides,” she testified.
Monsanto’s lawyer asked her to address a 2008 internal Monsanto email regarding a press release issued by Beyond Pesticides. The press release by the nonprofit group shared a research study that found glyphosate exposure could increase a person’s risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The group advised people should embrace organic agriculture and use “non-toxic land care” on residential lawns.
In the email, Farmer had written to colleagues: “We have been aware of this paper for awhile and knew it would only be a matter of time before the activists picked it up.” Mentioning the Beyond Pesticides line about embracing organic agriculture, Farmer had written: How do we combat this?”
Under questioning from Monsanto’s lawyer, Farmer explained that she was not indicating Monsanto should try to combat the scientific research but was addressing only the Beyond Pesticide advice about avoiding pesticide use.
The Stephens trial started as an in-person proceeding but was changed to a Zoom trial due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19, and has been plagued by repeated “technical problems” ever since the change. Several times jurors and/or a witness have lost their audio and/or video connections to the trial.
Judge Gilbert Ochoa of the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California, is overseeing the proceedings.
The trial does not resume until Monday Oct. 4 because of scheduling conflicts for some of the trial participants.
EPA’s “scientific integrity” program lacks teeth, group alleges
Insiders at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have alleged dozens of violations of the agency’s “scientific integrity” policy over the last few years, including complaints of political interference and tampering with chemical risk assessments, but nearly all the complaints have been ignored, according to an analysis conducted by a nonprofit group representing EPA employees.
Seven complaints were filed very recently- between January and July of this year, according to EPA data obtained by the group.
Since 2017 there have been a total of 68 allegations of scientific integrity violations inside the EPA, including 35 allegations filed between 2019 and mid-year 2021, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
PEER is currently representing four EPA scientists who have come forward as whistleblowers, offering internal agency emails and other documents as evidence of what they allege is wide-spread corruption driven by powerful political and corporate influences.
Among other things, those whistleblowers have claimed specifically that chemical risk assessments have been altered, or otherwise tampered with, in order to make chemicals entering the marketplace appear safer than they actually are. The result leaves the public exposed to chemicals that may cause cancer, developmental problems or other hidden health risks.
Importantly, the whistleblowers have said that agency misconduct has continued through the first several months of the Biden administration.
The information obtained by PEER shows that of the 35 allegations filed from 2019 through June 2021, 12 were closed, 22 remained unresolved and only one was deemed “substantiated,” but even that one has not led to any punishment.
“It’s a complete sham,” Jeff Ruch, one of PEER’s regional directors and former executive director, said of the EPA’s scientific integrity program. “They give the illusion that they have a program, but it’s worse than nothing because it suggests they’re holding themselves to a high standard of scientific integrity when they’re not.”
The EPA has publicly reported scientific integrity complaint information through 2018, but has not filed public reports for complaint information since. The data for 2019 through June of 2021 was procured by PEER through a Freedom of Information Act request. The nonprofit requested details about the complaints and their handling but EPA provided only very limited information illustrated in pie charts.
The information in the pie charts shows that “interference” in scientific work ranked as the most often-cited type of complaint. Five of the seven complaints recorded for the first half of 2021 were for interference, for instance.
Shortly after taking office, President Biden launched a review of federal scientific integrity policies, saying “Scientific findings should never be distorted or influenced by political considerations.”
The directive said ”Improper political interference in the work of Federal scientists… undermines the welfare of the Nation, contributes to systemic inequities and injustices, and violates the trust that the public places in government to best serve its collective interests.”
In one example of such interference, PEER filed a complaint last year with the EPA’s Office of Inspector General charging that then EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, along with other high-ranking EPA officials, excluded key scientific information and the analysis of experts in changing the definition of “water of the United States”under the Clean Water Act, a move PEER and others said threatened clean drinking water around the country.
PEER describes what it calls “major” hindrances within the EPA’s Scientific Integrity program, including a “lack of investigative staff,” an “inability to draw upon expertise needed to assess technical issues,” and the “absence of any protocol for reviewing or investigating complaints.”
And notably, violations of the agency’s scientific integrity policy carry no penalties, PEER said. The group’s experience representing whistleblowers indicates violations are largely addressed by trying to “persuade non-compliant managers to address their own violations,” PEER said.
The group said with respect to the current whistleblower complaints PEER is involved in, the EPA scientists notified the agency’s office of scientific integrity last November about their concerns about a memorandum that made policy changes they scientists said weakened human health assessments in a way that made them less likely to find risks with a new chemical substance. Their concerns were ignored for months, according to PEER. The memorandum was eventually revoked, but the altered chemical assessments were not corrected and the scientists fear the policy memo will be reinstituted, according to PEER.
In the EPA’s 2018 report, the agency said that “Scientific integrity remains an ongoing priority for EPA,” and said the agency works with special advisors and committees and engages the Office of Inspector General (OIG) when needed to protect and advance the integrity of the agency’s scientific work.
“Scientific integrity is the compass that guides EPA in its mission to protect human health
and the environment,” the agency states in the report.
Glyphosate Fact Sheet: Cancer and Other Health Concerns
Glyphosate, a synthetic herbicide patented in 1974 by the Monsanto Company and now manufactured and sold by many companies in hundreds of products, has been associated with cancer and other health concerns. Glyphosate is best known as the active ingredient in Roundup-branded herbicides, and the herbicide used with “Roundup Ready” genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Herbicide tolerance is the most prevalent GMO trait engineered into food crops, with some 90% of corn and 94% of soybeans in the U.S. engineered to tolerate herbicides, according to USDA data. A 2017 study found that Americans’ exposure to glyphosate increased approximately 500 percent since Roundup Ready GMO crops were introduced in the U.S in 1996. Here are some key facts about glyphosate:
Consumer market withdrawal planned
In July 2021, Monsanto owner Bayer AG said it would remove glyphosate-based herbicides from the U.S. consumer market by 2023 due to tens of thousands of lawsuits brought by people alleging they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma from exposure to the company’s glyphosate herbicides, such as Roundup.
Americans have applied 1.8 million tons of glyphosate (or 1.6 billion kilograms) since its introduction in 1974 to 2014.
Worldwide 9.5 million tons (or 8.6 billion kilograms) of the chemical has been sprayed on fields – enough to spray nearly half a pound of Roundup on every cultivated acre of land in the world, according to an examination of data from 1994-2014.
Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since Roundup Ready GMO crops were introduced.
Approximately 281 million pounds of glyphosate was applied to 298 million acres annually in U.S. agricultural settings, on average, from 2012 to 2016, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Most glyphosate was applied to soybean (117.4 million lbs applied annually), corn (94.9 million lbs applied annually), and cotton (20 million lbs applied annually). Many citrus fruits, including grapefruit, oranges, and lemons, and field crops such as soybeans, corn, and cotton have high percentages of their acres treated with glyphosate. Approximately 24 million pounds of glyphosate are applied to non-agricultural sites annually, on average, from 2012 through 2016, according to EPA. The majority of non-agricultural use is in the homeowner market. About 5 million lbs is applied annually for residential use.
Statements from scientists and health care providers
Monsanto owner Bayer AG maintains that glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides are safe when used as directed and do not cause cancer. “Glyphosate is one of the most studied herbicides in the world – and, like all crop protection products, it is subject to rigorous testing and oversight by regulatory authorities,” Bayer states on its website. “There is an extensive body of research on glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides… that confirm that glyphosate and our glyphosate-based formulated products can be used safely and do not cause cancer.”
Concerns with corporate studies
Regulators in Europe and the United States, Canada and elsewhere have repeatedly affirmed the corporate assertions of glyphosate safety. In coming to determinations about safety these regulators have relied in part on tests that are conducted by or for the companies that have not been published or peer reviewed.
The corporate studies have long been kept secret, even by regulators. But in Europe, litigation by a group of European Parliament lawmakers led to the release of dozens of such studies. More than 50 of those corporate studies were analyzed in 2021 by two independent scientists – Armen Nersesyan and Siegfried Knasmueller, both from the Institute of Cancer Research, Department of Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna.
The goal of the analysis was to determine if the industry studies examined comply with current international guidelines for chemical testing.
The resulting analysis was released July 2, 2021 and concluded that the bulk of the industry studies were outdated and did not meet current guidelines. An array of shortcomings and flaws were found in the studies, rendering most of them unreliable, according to the analysis.
In fact, of the 53 studies submitted to regulators by the companies, only two were acceptable under current internationally recognized scientific standards, said Knasmueller. See more details here.
The scientific literature and regulatory conclusions regarding glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides show a mix of findings, making the safety of the herbicide a hotly debated subject.
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” after reviewing years of published and peer-reviewed scientific studies. The team of international scientists found there was a particular association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
U.S. agencies: At the time of the IARC classification, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was conducting a registration review. The EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) issued a report in September 2016 concluding that glyphosate was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans” at doses relevant to human health. In December 2016, the EPA convened a Scientific Advisory Panel to review the report; members were divided in their assessment of EPA’s work, with some finding the EPA erred in how it evaluated certain research. Additionally, the EPA’s Office of Research and Development determined that EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs had not followed proper protocols in its evaluation of glyphosate, and said the evidence could be deemed to support a “likely” carcinogenic or “suggestive” evidence of carcinogenicity classification. Nevertheless the EPA issued a draft report on glyphosate in December 2017 continuing to hold that the chemical is not likely to be carcinogenic. In April 2019, the EPA reaffirmed its position that glyphosate poses no risk to public health. But earlier that same month, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reported that there are links between glyphosate and cancer. According to the draft report from ATSDR, “numerous studies reported risk ratios greater than one for associations between glyphosate exposure and risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or multiple myeloma.”
The EPA issued an Interim Registration Review Decision in January 2020 with updated information about its position on glyphosate, continuing to hold the position that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer.
In June 2021, the European Union’s (EU) Assessment Group on Glyphosate (AGG) issued an 11,000-page draft report concluding that glyphosate is safe when used as directed and does not cause cancer. The finding is based in part on a dossier of roughly 1,500 studies submitted to European regulators by the “Glyphosate Renewal Group (GRG),” a collection of companies that includes Monsanto owner Bayer AG. The companies are seeking the renewal of the EU authorization of glyphosate. Current authorization in Europe expires in December 2022. The companies say they also gave regulators a “literature review” of around 12,000 published scientific articles on glyphosate.
WHO/FAO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residuesdetermined in 2016 that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet, but this finding was tarnished by conflict of interest concerns after it came to light that the chair and co-chair of the group also held leadership positions with the International Life Sciences Institute, a group funded in part by Monsanto and one of its lobbying organizations.
California OEHHA: On March 28, 2017, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment confirmed it would add glyphosate to California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer. Monsanto sued to block the action but the case was dismissed. In a separate case, the court found that California could not require cancer warnings for products containing glyphosate. On June 12, 2018, a U.S. District Court denied the California Attorney General’s request for the court to reconsider the decision. The court found that California could only require commercial speech that disclosed “purely factual and uncontroversial information,” and the science surrounding glyphosate carcinogenicity was not proven.
Agricultural Health Study: A long-running U.S. government-backed prospective cohort study of farm families in Iowa and North Carolina has not found any connections between glyphosate use and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but the researchers reported that “among applicators in the highest exposure quartile, there was an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) compared with never users…” The most recent published update to the study was made public in late 2017.
Recent studies linking glyphosate to cancer and other health concerns
July 2020 paper published in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, Are glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides endocrine disruptors that alter female fertility?” summarizes the endocrine-disrupting effects of exposure to glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides at low or “environmentally relevant” doses in the female reproductive tissues. Data suggesting that, at low doses, glyphosate-based herbicides may have adverse effects on the female reproductive tract fertility are discussed.
June 2020 paper published in Veterinary and Animal Science, Glyphosate-based herbicide formulations and reproductive toxicity in animals,” concludes that some ingredients of glyphosate-based herbicides appear to act as reproductive toxicants, having a wide range of effects on both the male and female reproductive systems, including endocrine disruption, tissue damage and dysfunction of gametogenesis.
A 2018 ecological and population study conducted in Argentina found high concentrations of glyphosate in the soil and dust in agricultural areas that also reported higher rates of spontaneous abortion and congenital abnormalities in children, suggesting a link between environmental exposure to glyphosate and reproductive problems. No other relevant sources of pollution were identified.
A birth cohort study in Indiana published in 2017 – the first study of glyphosate exposure in US pregnant women using urine specimens as a direct measure of exposure – found detectable levels of glyphosate in more than 90% of the pregnant women tested and found the levels were significantly correlated with shortened pregnancy lengths.
A 2017 study associated chronic, very low-level glyphosate exposures to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats. According to the researchers, the results “imply that chronic consumption of extremely low levels of a GBH formulation (Roundup), at admissible glyphosate-equivalent concentrations, are associated with marked alterations of the liver proteome and metabolome,” the biomarkers for NAFLD.
November 2020 paper in the Journal of Hazardous Materials reports that approximately 54 percent of species in the core of the human gut microbiome are “potentially sensitive” to glyphosate. With a “large proportion” of bacteria in the gut microbiome susceptible to glyphosate, the intake of glyphosate “may severely affect the composition of the human gut microbiome,” the authors said in their paper.
A 2020 literature review of glyphosate’s effects on the gut microbiome concludes that, “glyphosate residues on food could cause dysbiosis, given that opportunistic pathogens are more resistant to glyphosate compared to commensal bacteria.” The paper continues, “Glyphosate may be a critical environmental trigger in the etiology of several disease states associated with dysbiosis, including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Glyphosate exposure may also have consequences for mental health, including anxiety and depression, through alterations in the gut microbiome.”
A 2018 rat study conducted by the Ramazzini Institute reported that low-dose exposures to Roundup at levels considered safe significantly altered the gut microbiota in some of the rat pups.
A large nationwide study published in the journal NeuroToxicology (December 2021) reports that “several neurotoxic pesticide exposures estimated using residential location were associated with statistically significant increased risk of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). These include the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate, and the insecticides carbaryl and chlorpyrifos.” ALS is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control.
More than 42,000 people have filed suit against Monsanto Company (now Bayer) alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and that Monsanto covered up the risks. As part of the discovery process, Monsanto has had to turn over millions of pages of internal records. We are posting these Monsanto Papers as they become available. For news and tips about the ongoing legislation, see Carey Gillam’s Roundup Trial Tracker. The first three trials ended in large awards to plaintiffs for liability and damages, with juries ruling that Monsanto’s weed killer was a substantial contributing factor in causing them to develop NHL. Bayer is appealing the rulings.
Some farmers use glyphosate on non-GMO crops such as wheat, barley, oats, and lentils to dry down the crop ahead of harvest in order to accelerate the harvest. This practice, known as desiccation, may be a significant source of dietary exposure to glyphosate.
Glyphosate in food: U.S. drags its feet on testing
Despite having annual pesticide residue testing programs for more than 30 years, the U.D. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mostly skipped testing food for glyphosate until after criticism from the Government Accountability Office in 2014. The USDA said it would start testing but then dropped the plan in 2017. Internal agency documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show the agency had planned to start testing over 300 samples of corn syrup for glyphosate in April 2017. But the agency killed the project before it started. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration began a limited testing program in 2016, but the effort was fraught with controversy and internal difficulties and the program was suspended in September 2016. The FDA did later resume limited testing.
One FDA chemist found alarming levels of glyphosate in many samples of U.S. honey, levels that were technically illegal because there have been no allowable levels established for honey by the EPA. Here is a recap of news about glyphosate found in food:
October 2018: FDA issued its first-ever report showing the results of its glyphosate residue in food testing. The FDA said no residues of glyphosate were found in milk or eggs, but residues were found in 63.1 percent of corn samples and 67 percent of soybean samples, according to FDA data. The agency did not disclose in that report the findings of glyphosate in oatmeal or honey products.
In 2020, a group of FDA scientists published a research paper examining pesticide residue data collected from 2009-2017. The scientists said this: “In this study, results for over 56,000 human food samples collected and analyzed under the FDA pesticide residue monitoring program between fiscal years (FY) 2009 to 2017 were reviewed to identify trends not apparent in annual reports. The overwhelming majority of these samples, 98.0% of domestic and 90.9% of import human foods, were compliant with federal standards. Although herbicides may be more widely used, the 10 most frequently detected residues were insecticides and fungicides. On a yearly basis, the violation rate for imported samples is 3-5 times higher than the rate for domestic samples. The import violation rate increased over time, as did the number of residues detected. Targeted sampling of foods with higher commodity-specific violation rates appears to be a major contributor to the increased violation rate. Mismatches between US tolerances and international MRLs can lead to violations; this was especially marked for rice. Overall, the majority of violations are due to residues of pesticides not authorized for use in the US (lack of tolerances). While DDT continues to persist in the environment and was found in 2.2% of domestic samples and 0.6% of imported samples, 42.3% of DDT-positive samples were below the limit of quantitation. The trends and analyses identified in this paper may help FDA plan future sampling and continue to protect the food supply.”
Monsanto owner Bayer AG maintains that residues of glyphosate in food are not harmful at levels approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. A 2021 paper written by longtime Bayer (former Monsanto) scientist John Vicini and published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety states that “dietary exposures to glyphosate are within established safe limits.”
A lawyer for a woman claiming her use of Roundup herbicide caused her to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma sparred with a longtime Monsanto scientist in court on Wednesday, forcing the scientist to address numerous internal corporate documents about research showing Monsanto weed killers could be genotoxic and lead to cancer.
The testimony by former Monsanto scientist Donna Farmer marked her second day on the stand and came several weeks into the case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto, the fourth Roundup trial in the United States, and the first since 2019. Juries in three prior trials all found in favor of plaintiffs who, like Stephens, alleged they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to their use of Roundup or other Monsanto herbicides made with the chemical glyphosate. Thousands of people have filed similar claims.
Bayer AG, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has earmarked more than $14 billion to try to settle all of the U.S. Roundup litigation, but many plaintiffs have refused to settle, and cases continue to go to trial.
A “genotox hole”
In hours of contentious back-and-forth, interrupted repeatedly by objections from a Monsanto attorney, Stephens’ lawyer William Shapiro quizzed Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer about emails and documents dating back to the late 1990s that focused on research – and the company’s handling of that research – into whether or not the company’s herbicide products could cause cancer.
In one line of questioning, Shapiro asked Farmer about emails in which she and other company scientists discussed the company’s response to outside research that concluded the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides were genotoxic, meaning they damaged human DNA. Genotoxicity is an indicator that a chemical or other substance may cause cancer.
Shapiro focused during one series of questions on work done by a scientist named James Parry, who Monsanto hired as a consultant in the 1990s to weigh in on the genotoxicity concerns about Roundup being raised at the time by outside scientists. Parry’s report agreed there appeared to be “potential genotoxic activity” with glyphosate, and recommended that Monsanto do additional studies on its products.
In an internal Monsanto email dating from September 1999 written to Farmer and other company scientists, a Monsanto scientist named William Heydens said this about Parry’s report: “let’s step back and look at what we are really trying to achieve here. We want to find/develop someone who is comfortable with the genetox profile of glyphosate/Roundup and can be influential with regulators and Scientific Outreach operations when genetox issues arise. My read is that Parry is not currently such a person, and it would take quite some time and $$$/studies to get him there. We simply aren’t going to do the studies Parry suggests.”
In a separate email revealed through the litigation, Farmer wrote that Parry’s report put the company into a “genotox hole” and she mentioned a suggestion by a colleague that the company should “drop” Parry.
Farmer testified that her mention of a “genotox hole” referred to problems with “communication” not about any cancer risk. She also said that she and other Monsanto scientists did not have concerns with the safety of glyphosate or Roundup, but did have concerns about how to respond to paper and research by outside scientists raising such concerns.
Shapiro pressed Farmer on her reaction to Parry’s finding: “You thought it would be okay on behalf of Monsanto to receive information as you did from Dr. Parry that this Roundup product was genotoxic or could be, you thought it would be okay to go ahead and continue to sell the product, correct?”
Farmer replied: “We didn’t agree with Professor Parry’s conclusions at the time that it may be, could be, capable of being genotoxic. We had other evidence…. We had regulators who had agreed with our studies and conclusions that it was not genotoxic.”
Her answer was interrupted as Shapiro objected, saying he was asking a yes or no question and Farmer’s attempt to respond beyond that should be stricken. The judge agreed and struck part of the response.
Continuing his questioning, Shapiro asked: “Well that didn’t work out to have Dr. Parry be the spokesperson for Monsanto, did it Dr. Farmer?
“I would disagree with you because there is still a lot more to this Professor Parry, working with him, and I’d be happy to…” Farmer replied before being cut off by another Shapiro objection and the judge’s striking of everything following the first five words.
A similar pattern played out throughout Farmer’s testimony as Stephens’ lawyer objected to Farmer’s attempts to provide extended answers to multiple questions posed, and Monsanto’s lawyer Manuel Cachan objecting repeatedly to Shapiro’s questions as “argumentative.”
Ghostwriting and “FTO”
Shapiro asked Farmer to address multiple issues expressed in the internal corporate emails, including one series in which Monsanto scientists discussed ghostwriting scientific papers, including a very prominent paper published in the year 2000 that asserted there were no human health concerns with glyphosate or Roundup.
Shapiro additionally asked Farmer to address a strategy Monsanto referred to in emails as “Freedom to Operate” or “FTO”. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have presented FTO as Monsanto’s strategy of doing whatever it took to lessen or eliminate restrictions on its products.
And he asked her about Monsanto emails expressing concerns about research into dermal absorption rates – how fast its herbicide might absorb into human skin.
Farmer said multiple times that information was not being presented in the correct context, and she would be happy to provide detailed explanations for all of the issues raised by Shapiro, but was told by the judge she would need to wait until questioning by Monsanto’s lawyers to do so.
The Stephens trial is taking place under the oversight of Judge Gilbert Ochoa of the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California. The trial is being held via Zoom due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19, and numerous technical difficulties have plagued the proceedings. Testimony has been halted multiple times because jurors have lost connections or had other problems that inhibited their ability to hear and view the trial testimony.
Stephens is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The three prior trials were all lengthy, in-person proceedings loaded with weeks of highly technical testimony about scientific data, regulatory matters and documents detailing internal Monsanto communications.
Litigation against Syngenta grows; lawyers fight over evidence and trial dates
Syngenta AG is facing a growing number of U.S. lawsuits over allegations that its paraquat herbicide causes Parkinson’s disease, with a Fresno, California man pushing for an expedited trial that potentially would start within the next few months, and multiple plaintiffs’ lawyers jockeying for power and influence over future trial proceedings.
Plaintiff George Isaak used paraquat to treat weeds on orchard and vineyard property from 1964 through 2004, mixing, loading and spraying the pesticide routinely before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in May of 2020, according to his lawsuit.
Isaak used a 200-gallon “spraying rig” on the 60-acre farm where he raised peaches, nectarines, almonds, pistachios, and grapes before retiring in 2005. Isaak, 84, now has such severe Parkinson’s symptoms that he has suffered several falls, finds it hard to speak, and is confined to a wheelchair, according to his lawyers.
Isaak attorney Mike Miller said his client has been left with “horrible” injuries from Parkinson’s.
Isaak should now be given a trial date no later than January due to his decline in cognition and overall debilitation to his health, according to a court filing by The Miller Firm and co-counsel.
Isaak “had no reason to suspect that chronic, low-dose exposure to Paraquat could cause neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease,” the lawsuit states. But evidence will show, the lawsuit contends, that the paraquat use was a “substantial factor in causing Plaintiff George Isaak to suffer severe and permanent physical injuries, pain, mental anguish, and disability, and will continue to do so for the remainder of Plaintiff George Isaak’s life.”
Carol Isaak, George Isaak’s wife, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit and is seeking a claim for loss of consortium.
There are hundreds of cases pending in state and federal courts around the country, according to a June 22 court filing. The plaintiffs in those cases all allege Syngenta was aware of the risks but failed to warn users.
Syngenta, which is owned by a Chinese chemical company, has denied the allegations, and is seeking to dismiss, or limit the lawsuits. The company filed a “partial motion to dismiss” in federal court on Sept. 13, citing various state law provisions in asking the court to dismiss claims “for breach of warranty, fraud, and violation of certain consumer protection statutes.”
Along with Syngenta, the defendants include Chevron Phillips Chemical Cmpany LP, and Chevron USA, Inc. All have denied any liability.
Infighting among plaintiffs’ lawyers
Syngenta said in a Sept. 17 court filing that it opposes the granting of an expedited trial, known as a “preference” trial, for Isaak.
“Mr. Isaak has presented no evidence regarding his alleged paraquat exposures, and his medical records and doctor’s declaration cast doubt on whether he actually has Parkinson’s disease,” the company said in its filing.
Syngenta noted that there are many other plaintiffs expected to request preference trials.
In addition to the objection from Syngenta, Isaak’s lawyers effort to obtain court approval for a preference trial has come into conflict with an effort by other attorneys representing other plaintiffs in the paraquat litigation.
Plaintiffs law firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger is seeking to create a special committee made up of plaintiffs’ lawyers that would evaluate and screen cases seeking preference trials. Typically such requests for expedited trials go directly to a judge.
The firm said a committee was needed because many of the plaintiffs in the overall paraquat litigation would “likely qualify” for preference. They are proposing a protocol implemented by a five-member committee of plaintiffs’ lawyers.
“The majority of the plaintiffs, including both filed and unfiled cases known to plaintiffs’ counsel, are over the age of 65. The reality of these cases is that there are many plaintiffs, as well as many potential plaintiffs, whose disease progression is unstable and who have a real and substantial danger of losing their ability to testify, or losing their ability to meaningfully utilize their compensation, if their trials are not prioritized,” the firm stated in a court filing.
The firm added in a separate filing: “An uncontrolled race to file competing preference motions risks sending a plaintiff to trial who does not represent the plaintiff population. And should the initial trials be ultimately unsuccessful, it jeopardizes the rights of all remaining plaintiffs in the proceeding.”
Whether or not a plaintiff meets the criteria deserving of a preference trial should not be left up to the arbitrary nature of a committee of other plaintiffs’ attorneys, they said.
The attorneys registering opposition to the preference committee additionally allege that the Walkup firm has a conflict of interest because it has already reached a “large, lucrative” settlement agreement with Syngenta for some of its clients, and until that deal is finalized, Syngenta and the other defendants still could walk away from the deal.
Thus, the Walkup firm is “a conflicted law firm,” the attorneys allege. In addition to The Miller Firm, the law firms registering opposition are the Wagstaff Law Firm and Brady Law Group.
A hearing on the matter is set for Sept. 30.
Battle over discovery documents
The lawyers for plaintiffs have also been fighting over access to internal Syngenta corporate documents and other evidence obtained as part of court-ordered “discovery.”
Over the last few years, Syngenta and the other defendants turned over millions of documents to Missouri lawyer Steve Tillery in his representation of a paraquat lawsuit titled Hoffman V. Syngenta, that was pending in St. Clair County, Illinois. The Hoffman case had been set to go to trial earlier this year but Tillery and the defendants agreed to a settlement and no trial was held.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs pursuing trials want to make use of the materials already turned over in the Hoffman case, including internal corporate documents as well as depositions and expert reports. Tillery and Syngenta objected to sharing some of the materials but were ordered to do so by the federal judge overseeing consolidated paraquat proceedings in the Northern District of California.
Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies. Farmers use paraquat in the production of many crops, including corn, soy and cotton. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) said it found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” In 2011, AHS researchers reported that “participants who used paraquat or rotenone were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who didn’t use these chemicals.”
Syngenta argues that newer and more robust research, including by AHS scientists, has discounted a tie between paraquat and Parkinson’s.
A recent paper from AHS researchers stated that “Extensive literature suggests an association between general pesticide use and Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, with few exceptions, little is known about associations between specific pesticides and PD.”
Because the paraquat litigation is expected to continue to grow, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) in Washington, D.C. approved the consolidation of pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California, the same federal court that is overseeing the U.S. Roundup MDL.
Similarly, several other cases are consolidated in Judicial Council Coordination Proceedings in Contra Costa County Superior Court in California.
Subscribe to our newsletter. Get weekly updates in your inbox.