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January 28, 2020

Bayer settlement of Roundup cancer claims still up in air

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Jurors selected to hear a St. Louis case pitting cancer victims against Monsanto have been told the trial that was postponed indefinitely last week could resume as early as next Monday, a court spokesman said, an indication that efforts by Monsanto owner Bayer AG to end nationwide litigation over the safety of Roundup herbicides is still in flux.

In another sign that a deal has yet to be secured,  jury selection in a separate Roundup cancer trial – this one in California – was continuing this week. The trials in St. Louis and California involve plaintiffs who allege they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma because of exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides made by Monsanto, including the popular Roundup brand. Tens of thousands of plaintiffs are making similar claims in lawsuits filed around the United States.

Bayer bought Monsanto in June of 2018 just as the first trial in the mass tort litigation was getting underway.  Bayer’s share price was hammered after a unanimous jury found that Monsanto’s herbicides were the cause of the plaintiff’s cancer in that case and that Monsanto had hidden evidence of the cancer risk from the public.

Two additional trials results in similar jury findings and drew worldwide media attention to damning internal Monsanto documents that show the company engaged in a number of deceptive practices over many decades to defend and protect the profitability of its herbicides.

Bayer investors are eager for the company to put an end to the litigation and head off more trials and the publicity that each brings.  Shares rose last week when the St. Louis trial was abruptly postponed as attorneys for the plaintiffs huddled with attorneys for Bayer and indicated a global settlement of the litigation was near.

Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated for weeks by litigation sources as a potential settlement total for the mass of cases that has dogged Bayer ever since it bought Monsanto for $63 billion.

Bayer has already negotiated settlement terms with several of the law firms leading the litigation, but has been unable to reach an agreement with the plaintiffs’ firms of Weitz & Luxenberg and The Miller Firm. Together the two firms represent close to 20,000 plaintiffs, making their participation in a settlement a key element to a deal that will appease investors, said sources close to the litigation.

Sources said that the two sides were “very close” to a deal.

In separate, but related news, The Kellogg Company said this week that it was moving away from using grains that have been sprayed with glyphosate shortly before harvest as ingredients in its consumer snacks and cereals. The practice of using glyphosate as a desiccant was marketed by Monsanto for years as a practice that could help farmers dry out their crops before harvesting, but food product testing has demonstrated that the practice commonly leaves residues of the weed killer in finished foods like oatmeal.

Kellogg’s said it is “working with our suppliers to phase out using glyphosate as pre-harvest drying agent in our wheat and oat supply chain in our major markets, including the U.S., by the end of 2025.”