Appeals court focused on damages question ahead of Johnson v. Monsanto hearing

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A California appeals court looks poised to issue a ruling that would uphold the first U.S. trial victory involving allegations that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer causes cancer.

The California Courts of Appeal First Appellate District on Wednesday notified lawyers for plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson and legal counsel for Monsanto that they should be prepared to focus on the question of damages awarded in the case at a hearing scheduled for June 2.

The fact that the court is showing it is interested in discussing what amount of damages are appropriate rather than issues pertaining to Monsanto’s request to overturn the trial loss entirely bodes well for the plaintiff’s side, said legal observers.

Monsanto August 2018 loss to Johnson, a California school groundskeeper, marked the first of three Roundup trial losses for the company, which was acquired by Germany’s Bayer AG nearly two years ago. The jury in the Johnson case found that Monsanto was negligent in failing to warn Johnson of the cancer risk of its herbicides and awarded Johnson $289 million in damages, including $250 million in punitive damages. The trial judge later lowered the award to $78.5 million. But the loss sent Bayer’s shares spirally lower and stoked investor unrest that has persisted as the number of additional Roundup cancer claims filed against Monsanto have grown.

In appealing the verdict, Monsanto asked the court to either reverse the trial decision and enter a judgment for Monsanto or reverse and remand the case for a new trial. Monsanto argued that the verdict was flawed because of exclusion of key evidence and the “distortion of reliable science.” If nothing else,  Monsanto asked the appeals court to reduce the portion of the jury award for “future noneconomic damages” from $33 million to $1.5 million and to wipe out the punitive damages altogether.  Monsanto’s argument on reducing future non-economic damages is based on the company’s position that Johnson is likely to die soon and thus will not suffer long-term future pain and suffering.

Johnson cross-appealed seeking reinstatement of the full jury award of $289 million.

Ahead of the hearing on the matter, the judicial panel said this: “The parties should be ready to address the following issue at oral argument, currently scheduled for June 2, 2020. Assume that this court agrees with Monsanto Company that the award of future noneconomic damages should be reduced. If the court directs such a reduction, should it also reduce the award of punitive damages to maintain the trial court’s 1:1 ratio of compensatory damages to punitive damages?”

In a separate matter, the court last month said it was rejecting an application by the California Attorney General to file an amicus brief on Johnson’s side.

The Johnson trial was covered by media outlets around the world and put a spotlight on questionable Monsanto conduct. Lawyers for Johnson presented jurors with internal company emails and other records showing Monsanto scientists discussing ghostwriting scientific papers to try to shore up support for the safety of the company’s products, along with communications detailing plans to discredit critics, and to quash a government evaluation of the toxicity of glyphosate, the key chemical in Monsanto’s products.

In its appeal, Monsanto argued that jurors were acting on emotion rather than scientific fact and “that there is no evidence that Monsanto had actual knowledge that its glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer. Nor could there be, when the scientific consensus, consistently accepted by EPA and other regulators around the world, contradicts that conclusion. It was not malicious for the regulators to reach this judgment, and it was not malicious for Monsanto to share their view of the science.”

Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have filed suit against Monsanto making claims similar to Johnson’s, and two additional trials have taken place since the Johnson trial. Both those trials also resulted in large verdicts against Monsanto.

Bayer and lawyers for more than 50,000 plaintiffs have been trying to negotiate a national settlement for the last year but Bayer recently backed away from some already negotiated settlement amounts. With courthouses closed around the country, the plaintiffs’ attorneys have lost the near-term leverage they had when multiple new trials were set to take place this summer and fall.

Bayer shareholder meeting draws protests, pleas from cancer patients

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The Bayer AG annual shareholders’ meeting got underway Tuesday in Germany, drawing the attention of not only investors and analysts but also activists, lawyers and cancer patients who want to see Bayer make amends for alleged misdeeds by Monsanto, which Bayer bought two years ago.

The meeting was to be an in-person event in Bonn, Germany but due to fears about large gatherings that could spread the Covid-19 virus, Bayer instead is hosting a video webcast  of the meeting.

On Monday the company announced a “good start to 2020,” reporting higher sales and profits through all divisions driven in part by strong demand within its Consumer Health division related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The shareholders’ meeting comes as Bayer is facing legal claims in the United States brought by roughly 52,500 plaintiffs alleging that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). They allege Monsanto was aware of the risks and should have warned consumers but instead sought to manipulate the scientific record and regulators.

Three trials have been held to date and Bayer lost all three as juries awarded more than $2 billion to four plaintiffs, though trial judges later reduced the awards. The trial losses angered investors and pushed share prices to the lowest levels in roughly seven years,  erasing more than 40 percent of Bayer’s market value at one point. Some investors called for Bayer CEO Werner Baumann to be ousted for championing the Monsanto acquisition, which closed in June of 2018 just as the first trial was getting underway.

Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys have been engaged in settlement talks for the last year and appeared close to a deal that would resolve a majority of the claims before the onset of Covid-19.

Virus-related government closures, including of U.S. courthouses, have eliminated the possibility of additional trials in the near future, and Bayer has seized on its fresh leverage to walk back some of its negotiated settlements, according to sources close to the talks.

Bayer said Monday it will “continue to consider a solution only if it is financially reasonable and puts in place a mechanism to resolve potential future claims efficiently. Against the background of a looming recession and looking at, in part, considerable liquidity challenges, this applies now more than ever.”

Despite the lack of an in-person meeting, several individuals and organizations are hoping to make their criticisms of the company known. One group representing beekeepers said it was running online ads redirecting people searching for Bayer AGM on Google to an online stream featuring beekeepers talking about the impacts of Bayer’s pesticides on bees.

Several people involved in the Roundup litigation also spoke out.

“It’s time for the Bayer board of directors to step up and do what is right,” said Thomas Bolger, a 68-year-old man from Texas who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2013 after using Roundup since 1982. Bolger recorded a video message to Bayer, detailing his ordeal with cancer.

Robyndee Laumbach, a 50-year-old Texas woman who said her work in cotton genetics exposed her repeatedly to Roundup, also made a video message for Bayer. “Cancer is bad, any which way you look at it. I’m completely damaged and scarred and I will be for the remainder of my life,” she said.

Both Laumbach and Bolger are among the people suing Monsanto.

Roundup litigation plaintiff Michelle Taranto also made a video message on behalf of her husband to share with Bayer. Rose said her husband will soon be entering his third round of treatments “that will hopefully save his life.” She asked Bayer to stop selling Roundup.

“Our lives have been diminished to endless hospital visits, countless painful treatments and expensive scary hospital stays,” Taranto said.

Maine Christmas tree farm operator Jim Hayes made a video message describing being diagnosed with Stage 4 NHL in 2016 after using Roundup on his farm for years. Hayes said he went through six rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant before being declared in remission. He now fears his cancer will return.

“I love my life. I love my family. I trusted the product. Clearly it is not safe for everyone to use,” Hayes said.

One Roundup litigation plaintiff who only wanted to be identified by his first name, Chuck, also made a video message for Bayer.

“I believe Bayer should be doing everything in their power to fix the problem that Monsanto and their product Roundup has caused thousands of individuals like myself who thought we were just using a harmless weed killer,” he said. “Although my cancer is incurable, Bayer can prevent future people from developing this horrible disease by taking this product Roundup off the shelf now. Bayer should also be accountable for everyone that now has to deal with this horrible disease every day.”

Appeal in first Monsanto Roundup cancer trial to be heard in June

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A California appeals court has set a June hearing for cross appeals resulting from the first-ever trial over  allegations that Monsanto’s herbicides cause cancer.

The Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District of California said Thursday that it was setting a hearing for June 2 in the case of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson v. Monsanto. The hearing will take place nearly two years after the start of the Johnson trial and also two years after Bayer AG bought Monsanto.

A unanimous jury awarded Johnson $289 million in August 2018, including $250 million in punitive damages, finding that not only did Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but that the company knew of the cancer risks and failed to warn Johnson.

The trial judge lowered the total verdict to $78 million but Monsanto appealed the reduced amount. Johnson cross appealed to reinstate the $289 million verdict.

In preparing for oral arguments on the Johnson appeal, the appellate court said it was rejecting an application by the California Attorney General to file an amicus brief on Johnson’s side.

The Johnson trial was covered by media outlets around the world and put a spotlight on questionable Monsanto conduct. Lawyers for Johnson presented jurors with internal company emails and other records showing Monsanto scientists discussing ghostwriting scientific papers to try to shore up support for the safety of the company’s products, along with communications detailing plans to discredit critics, and to quash a government evaluation of the toxicity of glyphosate, the key chemical in Monsanto’s products.

Internal documents also showed that Monsanto expected the International Agency for Research on Cancer would classify glyphosate as a probable or possible human carcinogen in March of 2015 (the classification was as a probable carcinogen) and worked out a plan in advance to discredit the cancer scientists.

Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have filed suit against Monsanto making claims similar to Johnson’s, and two additional trials have taken place since the Johnson trial. Both those trials also resulted in large verdicts against Monsanto.

In setting Johnson’s appeal date, the appellate court said it “recognizes the time-sensitive nature of these consolidated cases and has continued to give them its highest priority despite current emergency conditions” created by the spread of coronavirus.

The appellate court movement on the Johnson case comes as Bayer is reportedly trying to renege on negotiated settlements with several U.S. law firms representing many of those plaintiffs.

Bayer said to be reneging on Roundup settlement deals as virus closes courthouses

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Bayer AG is reneging on negotiated settlements with several U.S. law firms representing thousands of plaintiffs who claim exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, sources involved in the litigation said on Friday.

The reversal comes as U.S. courts are closed to the public because of the spreading coronavirus, eliminating the specter of another Roundup cancer trial in the near future.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in June of 2018, has been engaged in settlement talks for close to a year, seeking to put an end to mass litigation that has driven down the company’s stock, spurred investor unrest, and thrust questionable corporate conduct into a public spotlight.  The first three trials led to three losses for Bayer and jury awards of more than $2 billion, though trial judges later reduced the awards.

Bayer made a public statement this week saying that settlement talks have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but multiple plaintiffs’ lawyers said that was not true.

According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Bayer has been going back to law firms that had already completed negotiations for specified settlements for their clients, saying the company will not honor the agreed-upon amounts.

“A lot of lawyers around the country thought they had tentative deals,” said Virginia attorney Mike Miller, whose firm represents roughly 6,000 clients and won two of the three Roundup trials to date. Bayer is now demanding a “hair cut” on those deals, Miller said.

Whether or not the various firms will take the reduced offers remains to be seen.  “These are uncertain economic times,” Miller said. “People have to consider what’s best for their clients.”

In response to a request for comment, a Bayer spokesman provided the following statement: “We’ve made progress in the Roundup mediation discussions, but the COVID-19 dynamics, including restrictions imposed in recent weeks, have caused meeting cancellations and delayed this process…  As a result, the mediation process has significantly slowed, and realistically, we expect this will continue to be the case for the immediate future. During this time, we will continue to do whatever we can to help combat the global COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with our vision of ‘health for all, hunger for none.’ We cannot speculate about potential outcomes from the negotiations or timing, given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and the confidentiality of this process, but we remain committed to engaging in mediation in good faith.”

US Right to Know reported in early January that the parties were working on a settlement of roughly $8 billion to $10 billion. Bayer has acknowledged facing claims from more than 40,000 plaintiffs, but plaintiffs’ attorneys have said the total number of claims is much higher.

Among the firms who had negotiated settlements for their clients are the Andrus Wagstaff firm from Denver, Colorado and the Los Angeles firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman. Both reached agreements last year with Bayer.

In addition, the Weitz & Luxenberg firm from New York and Mike Miller’s firm recently reached what they thought were agreements on terms. Each of the firms represents thousands of plaintiffs.

The primary leverage plaintiffs’ attorneys had been using in the settlement negotiations was the threat of another public trial. In the first three trials, damning internal Monsanto documents laid bare evidence that the company knew of the cancer risks of its glyphosate-based herbicides but failed to warn consumers; ghost-wrote scientific papers proclaiming the safety of its herbicides; worked with certain regulatory officials to quash a government review of glyphosate toxicity; and engineered efforts to discredit critics.

The revelations have triggered outrage around the world and prompted moves to ban the glyphosate-based herbicides.

Several trials that were to have been held over the last several months were cancelled shortly before they were scheduled to begin when Bayer agreed to individual settlements for those specific trial plaintiffs. Two of those cases involved children stricken with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and a third was brought by a woman suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Those plaintiffs, and others who have agreed to settlements in lieu of trials in recent months, are protected and are not part of the current rollback effort by Bayer, according to multiple sources involved.

Bayer is slated to hold its annual shareholders’ meeting on April 28. For the first time in the company’s history, the meeting will be held entirely online.

The first three plaintiffs to win jury awards against Monsanto have yet to receive any money as Bayer appeals the verdicts.

10 Revelations from the U.S. Right to Know Investigations

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Please support our food investigations by making a tax-deductible donation today. 

Internal Monsanto documents released in 2019 provide a rare look inside pesticide and food companies that try to discredit public interest groups and journalists. The documents (posted here) show that Monsanto and its new owner, Bayer, were especially worried about U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit research group that began investigating the food industry in 2015. According to one Monsanto document, “USRTK’s plan will impact the entire industry” and “has the potential to be extremely damaging.” See coverage in the Guardian, “Revealed: how Monsanto’s ‘intelligence center’ targeted journalists and activists.”

Since our launch in 2015, U.S. Right to Know has obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of internal corporate and regulatory documents that reveal how food and pesticide corporations work behind the scenes to manipulate science, academia and policy to increase their profits at the expense of public health and the environment. Our work has contributed to three New York Times investigations, eight academic papers about corporate influence over our food system, and worldwide news coverage documenting how a handful of junk food and pesticide companies use a variety of unethical and unfair tactics to prop up an unhealthy, unsustainable food system. Here are some of our top findings so far.

1. Monsanto funded “independent” academics to promote and lobby for pesticide products

U.S. Right to Know has documented numerous examples of how pesticide companies rely heavily on publicly funded academics to assist with their PR and lobbying. A September 2015 front-page New York Times article revealed that Monsanto enlisted academics, and paid them secretly, to oppose GMO labeling laws. WBEZ later reported on one example; how a University of Illinois professor received tens of thousands of dollars from Monsanto to promote and lobby for GMOs and pesticides, and his university received millions; none of those funds were disclosed to the public.  

Documents reported in the Boston Globe, Bloomberg and Mother Jones describe how Monsanto assigned, scripted and promoted pro-GMO papers from professors at Harvard, Cornell and other universities — papers published with no mention of Monsanto’s role. At the University of Saskatchewan, Monsanto coached a professor and edited his academic articles, according to documents reported by the CBC.  At the request of the pesticide industry’s PR firm, a University of Florida professor produced a video that aimed to discredit a Canadian teenager who criticized GMOs, according to documents reported by Global News. 

See our Pesticide Industry Propaganda Tracker for fact sheets based on documents from our investigation. Many USRTK documents are also posted in the USCF Food and Chemical Industry Libraries.

2. The nonprofit science group ILSI is a lobby group for food and pesticide companies 

In September 2019, the New York Times reported on the “shadowy industry group” International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) that is shaping food policy around the world. The Times article cites a 2019 study co-authored by Gary Ruskin of USRTK reporting how ILSI operates as a lobby group that promotes the interest of its food and pesticide industry funders. See coverage of our study in the BMJ and The Guardian, and read more about the organization the Times described as “the most powerful food industry group you’ve never heard of” in our ILSI fact sheet.

In 2017, Ruskin co-authored a journal article reporting on emails showing food industry leaders discussing how they “have to use external organizations” when dealing with controversies over the health risks of their products. The emails show senior leaders in the food industry advocating for a coordinated approach to influencing scientific evidence, expert opinion and regulators across the world. See Bloomberg coverage, “Emails show how the food industry uses ‘science’ to push soda.”

The USRTK investigation also spurred a 2016 story in The Guardian reporting that the leaders of a Joint FAO/WHO panel that cleared glyphosate of cancer concerns also held leadership positions at ILSI, which received large donations from the pesticide industry. 

3. Breaking news about the Monsanto Roundup and Dicamba trials 

U.S. Right to Know frequently breaks news about the Roundup cancer trials via Carey Gillam’s Roundup and Dicamba Trial Tracker, which provides a first look at discovery documents, interviews and news tips about the trials. More than 42,000 people have filed suit against the Monsanto Company (now owned by Bayer) alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks.

As part of the discovery process, Monsanto has turned over millions of pages of its internal records. USRTK is posting many of these documents and court records free of charge on our Monsanto Papers pages.

Dozens of farmers around the United States are also now suing the former Monsanto Co. and conglomerate BASF in an effort to hold the companies accountable for millions of acres of crop damage the farmers claim is due to widespread illegal use of the weed killing chemical dicamba. In 2020, we also began posting the Dicamba Papers: Key documents and analysis from the trials.

4. Top CDC officials collaborated with Coca-Cola to shape the obesity debate, and advised Coca-Cola on how to stop WHO from cracking down on added sugars

Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know led to another front-page New York Times story in 2017 reporting that the newly appointed director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Brenda Fitzgerald, saw Coca-Cola as an ally on obesity issues (Fitzgerald has since resigned). 

USRTK was also first to report in 2016 that another high-ranking CDC official had cozy ties to Coke, and tried to assist the company in steering the World Health Organization away from its efforts to discourage consumption of added sugars; see reporting by Carey Gillam, research director of U.S. Right to Know. Our work also contributed to a study in the Milbank Quarterly co-authored by Gary Ruskin detailing conversations between the CDC and Coca-Cola executives. Two articles in the BMJ based on USRTK documents, and articles in the Washington Post, Atlanta Journal Constitution, San Diego Union Tribune, Forbes, CNN, Politico and The Intercept provide more details about Coke’s influence at the U.S. public health agency that is supposed to help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and other diseases.   

5. The U.S. FDA found glyphosate residues in honey, infant cereals, and other common foods, and then stopped testing for the chemical   

FDA did not release the information, so USRTK did.

Carey Gillam broke news in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and USRTK about internal government documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests showing that the U.S. FDA conducted tests that found the weed-killer glyphosate in an array of commonly consumed foods including granola, crackers, infant cereal and in very high levels in honey.  The FDA did not release the information, so USRTK did. The government then suspended its testing program for glyphosate residues in food, Gillam reported.

FDA did resume testing and in late 2018 and issued a report that showed very limited testing and reported no worrisome levels of glyphosate. The report did not include any of the information USRTK turned up through FOIAs.

6. Pesticide companies secretly funded an academic group that attacked the organic industry 

A group calling itself Academics Review made headlines in 2014 with a report attacking the organic industry as a marketing scam. The group claimed it was run by independent academics, and accepted no corporate contributions; however, documents obtained by USRTK and reported in the Huffington Post revealed the group was set up with the help of Monsanto to be an industry-funded front group that could discredit critics of GMOs and pesticides.

Tax records show that Academics Review received most of its funding from the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI), a trade group funded by the world’s largest pesticide companies.

7. Universities hosted conferences funded by the pesticide industry to train scientists and journalists how to promote GMOs and pesticides 

Pesticide-industry funded “boot camps” held at the University of Florida and the University of California, Davis brought together scientists, journalists and industry PR allies to discuss how to “connect emotionally with skeptical parents” in their messaging to promote GMOs and pesticides, according to documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know. 

Two industry front groups, Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review, organized the messaging-training events, and claimed the funding came from government, academic and industry sources; however, according to reporting in The Progressive, non-industry sources denied funding the events and the only traceable source of funds was the pesticide industry trade group CBI, which spent more than $300,000 on the two conferences. 

8. Coca-Cola secretly tried to influence medical and science journalists

Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and reported in the BMJ show how Coca-Cola funded journalism conferences at a U.S. university in an attempt to create favorable press coverage of sugar-sweetened drinks. When challenged about funding of the series of conferences, the academics involved weren’t truthful about industry involvement. 

9. Coca Cola saw itself at “war” with the public health community over obesity 

Another journal article co-authored by USRTK’s Gary Ruskin in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health revealed how Coca-Cola saw itself at “war” with the “public health community.” The emails also reveal the company’s thoughts on how to deal with issues surrounding obesity and responsibility for this public health crisis; for more see Ruskin’s article in Environmental Health News and more journal articles co-authored by USRTK on our Academic Work page. 

10. Dozens of academics and other industry allies coordinate their messaging with agrichemical companies and their PR operatives

Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know reveal never-before-reported facts about the front groups, academics, and other third party allies the pesticide and food companies rely on to promote their public relations and lobbying agendas. USRTK provides detailed fact sheets about more than two dozen leading third party allies who appear to be independent, but work closely with companies and their PR firms on coordinated pro-industry messages. See our fact sheet, Tracking the Agrichemical Industry Propaganda Network. 

Help us keep the USRTK investigations cooking! You can now contribute to our investigations through Patreon and PayPal. Please sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates about our findings and join us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more discussion about our food system.

New legal filings over alleged Roundup dangers amid court coronavirus delays

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Even as the spread of the coronavirus closes courthouse doors to the public and lawyers, legal maneuvering continues over claims of danger associated with Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides.

Two nonprofit advocacy groups, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), filed an amicus brief on behalf of cancer patient Edwin Hardeman on March 23. Hardeman won a jury verdict against Monsanto of $80 million in March of 2019, becoming the second winning plaintiff in the Roundup litigation.  The trial judge reduced the jury award to a total of $25 million. Monsanto appealed the award nonetheless, asking an appellate court to overturn the verdict.

The new legal brief supporting Hardeman counters one filed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that backs Monsanto in the Hardeman appeal.

The CFS and CBD brief states that Monsanto and the EPA are both wrong to assert that the EPA’s approval of glyphosate herbicides preempts challenges to the safety of the products:

        “Contrary to Monsanto’s claims, Mr. Hardeman’s case is not preempted by EPA’s conclusion relative to glyphosate because Roundup is a glyphosate formulation that EPA has never evaluated for carcinogenicity. Moreover, significant flaws and biases undermined EPA’s evaluation of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and the district court was correct in allowing testimony to that effect,” the brief states.

         “Monsanto wants this Court to believe that “glyphosate” is synonymous with ‘Roundup.’ The reason is simple: if the terms are interchangeable, then, they argue, EPA’s finding that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic” would apply to Roundup and might preempt Mr. Hardeman’s case. However as the evidence presented at trial demonstrated, “glyphosate” and “Roundup” are very much not synonymous, and Roundup is far more toxic than glyphosate.  Moreover, EPA has never evaluated Roundup for carcinogenicity. Glyphosate formulations, like Roundup, contain additional ingredients (co-formulants) to improve performance in some way. EPA understands these formulations are more toxic than glyphosate alone, yet nevertheless focused its cancer evaluation on pure glyphosate…”

Separate lawsuit names EPA 

In a separate legal action, last week the Center for Food Safety filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA over its continued support of glyphosate. The claim, made on behalf of a  coalition of farm workers, farmers, and conservationists, alleges the EPA is violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act as well as the Endangered Species Act by continuing to allow widespread use of glyphosate herbicides.

“While EPA defends glyphosate, juries in several cases have found it to cause cancer, ruling in favor of those impacted by exposure,” CFS said in a press release. “Glyphosate formulations like Roundup are also well-established as having numerous damaging environmental impacts. After a registration review process spanning over a decade, EPA allowed the continued marketing of the pesticide despite the agency’s failure to fully assess glyphosate’s hormone-disrupting potential or its effects on threatened and endangered species.”

Bill Freese, science policy analyst at CFS said: “Far from consulting the ‘best available science,’ as EPA claims, the agency has relied almost entirely on Monsanto studies, cherry-picking the data that suits its purpose and dismissing the rest.”

Virus-related court disruptions

Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG have been working to try to settle a large number of the tens of thousands of Roundup cancer claims brought in U.S. courts. That effort continues, and specific settlements have already been reached for some individual plaintiffs, according to sources involved in the talks. US Right to Know reported in early January that the parties were working on a settlement of roughly $8 billion to $10 billion.

However, many other cases continue to work their way through the court system, including the appeal of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the first plaintiff to win against Monsanto in the Roundup litigation. Johnson’s attorneys had hoped the California Court of Appeal would hold oral arguments in Monsanto’s appeal of Johnson’s win sometime in April. But that now appears extremely unlikely as other cases scheduled for March have now been pushed into April.

As well, all in-person sessions for oral arguments in the appeals court are currently suspended. Counsel who choose to present oral argument must do so over the telephone, the court states.

Meanwhile, courts in multiple California counties are closed and jury trials have been suspended to try to protect people from the spread of the virus. The federal court in San Francisco, where the multidistrict Roundup litigation is centralized, is closed to the public, including a suspension of trials, until May 1. Judges can still issue rulings, however, and hold hearings by teleconference.

In Missouri, where most of the state court Roundup cases are based, all in-person court proceedings (with a few exceptions) are suspended through April 17, according to a Missouri Supreme Court order. 

One Missouri case that had been set to go to trial in March 30 in St. Louis City Court now has a trial date set for April 27.  The case is Seitz v Monsanto #1722-CC11325.

In ordering the change, Judge Michael Mullen wrote: “DUE TO THE NATIONAL PANDEMIC OF THE COVID-19 VIRUS AND THE UNAVAILABILITY OF JURORS IN THIS CIRCUIT THE COURT HEREBY REMOVES THIS CASE FROM THE MARCH 30, 2020 TRIAL DOCKET. CAUSE IS RESET FOR A TRIAL SETTING CONFERENCE ON MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2020 @ 9:00 AM.”

Shareholder files suit against Bayer over “disastrous” Monsanto acquisition

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A California shareholder of Bayer AG on Friday filed a lawsuit against the companies’ top executives claiming they breached their duty of “prudence” and “loyalty” to the company and investors by buying Monsanto Co. in 2018, an acquisition the suit claims has “inflicted billions of dollars of damages” on the company.

Plaintiff Rebecca R. Haussmann, trustee of the Konstantin S. Haussmann Trust, is the sole named plaintiff in the suit, which was filed in New York County Supreme Court.  The named defendants include Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, who orchestrated the $63 billion Monsanto purchase, and Bayer Chairman Werner Wenning, who announced last month he was stepping down from the company earlier than planned. The suit claims that Wenning’s decision came after Bayer improperly obtained a copy of the then-draft shareholder lawsuit “through corporate espionage.”

The lawsuit also claims that Bayer’s recent announcement of an audit of its acquisition actions is “bogus” and “part of the ongoing cover-up and intended to create a legal barrier to this case to protect Defendants from their accountability…”

The action is a shareholder derivative complaint, meaning it is brought on behalf of the company against company insiders. It seeks compensatory damages for shareholders and disgorgement of “all compensation paid to the Bayer Managers and Supervisors who participated in bringing about this Acquisition…” The suit also seeks return of funds paid to banks and law firms involved in the acquisition.

The defendants include not only Baumann and Wenning, but also some present and former Bayer directors and top managers, as well as BOFA Securities, Inc., Bank of America, Credit Suisse Group AG and the law firms of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Linklaters LLP.

A Bayer spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit comes a little more than a month before Bayer’s April 28 annual shareholders’ meeting in Bonn, Germany.  At last year’s annual meeting, 55 percent of shareholders registered their unhappiness with Baumann and other managers over the Monsanto deal and the subsequent loss of roughly $40 billion in market value.

Bayer’s purchase of Monsanto has been clouded by tens of thousands of lawsuits alleging Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company deceived customers about the risks. Bayer proceeded with the acquisition even after the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen with a positive association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and despite knowledge of the spreading legal claims.

Bayer then completed the Monsanto purchase just two months before the first Roundup cancer trial ended with a $289 million verdict against the company. Since that time two more trials have ended in similar findings against the company with verdicts totaling more than $2 billion, though the trial judges in each case have lowered the verdicts. All are now on appeal.

Bayer has said there are more than 45,000 plaintiffs currently making similar claims. The company has been working to settle the lawsuits for a figure widely reported to be around $10 billion but has thus far not been successful in putting an end to the litigation.

The lawsuit claims that during 2017 and 2018, as the filing of new Roundup cancer lawsuits was escalating, the ability of Bayer management to conduct due diligence into Monsanto and the litigation risks was “severely restricted.” As a result, “Bayer could not conduct the kind of intrusive and thorough due diligence into Monsanto’s business and legal affairs called for under the circumstances.”

The suit claims that Monsanto did not disclose a material risk from Roundup and failed to quantify any potential financial impact. Monsanto’s executives “had every incentive to minimize the Roundup risk in order to get Bayer to close the deal,” the lawsuit states.

The shareholder lawsuit claims that “these types of mass-tort cases… can destroy a company.”

The lawsuit points to the fact that Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides are now being restricted and/or banned in many parts of the world, including in Germany.

“The Monsanto Acquisition is a disaster. Roundup is doomed as a commercial product,” the lawsuit states.

Dicamba litigation against Bayer, BASF poised to explode, lawyers say

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Thousands of farmers from multiple states are expected to join mass tort litigation pending in federal court over claims that weed-killing products developed by the former Monsanto Co. and other chemical companies are destroying and contaminating crops, including organic production, a group of lawyers and farmers said on Wednesday.

The number of farmers seeking legal representation to file suit against Monsanto and BASF has surged over the last week and a half after a staggering $265 million jury award to a Missouri peach farmer who alleged the two companies were to blame for the loss of his livelihood, according to Joseph Peiffer of the Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane law firm. Peiffer said more than 2,000 farmers are likely to become plaintiffs.

There are already over 100 farmers making claims against the companies that have been combined in multidistrict litigation in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Earlier this month the bellwether trial for that litigation ended with a unanimous jury awarding the family-owned Bader Farms $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages, to be paid by  Bayer AG, the German company that bought Monsanto in 2018, and by BASF.  The jury concluded that  Monsanto and BASF conspired in actions they knew would lead to widespread crop damage because they expected it would increase their own profits.

We now have the road map to get justice for dicamba victims.  The Bader verdict in Missouri sent a clear signal that you can’t profit off of hurting innocent farmers and get away with it,” said Peiffer.  “The crop damage research and increasing farmer complaints forecast a much bigger problem than Monsanto/Bayer and BASF want to admit.”

U.S. Right to Know asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which approved the dicamba herbicides despite scientific evidence of the risks, to provide a national tally for the total number of dicamba drift complaints. But while the EPA said it was taking the reports “very seriously,” it declined to provide a tally and said it was up to state agencies to handle such complaints.

The EPA also indicated it was not certain the damage reported by farmers was, in fact, due to dicamba.

“The underlying causes of the various damage incidents are not yet clear, as on-going investigations have yet to be concluded,” said an EPA spokesperson. “But EPA is reviewing all available information carefully.

“Ticking Time Bomb”

Just as Monsanto and Bayer have been confronted with damning internal documents in losing three trials over claims Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, there are many internal corporate documents discovered in the dicamba litigation that helped convince the jury of the company’s guilt, according to Bader Farms attorney Bill Randles.

Randles has obtained hundreds of internal Monsanto and BASF corporate records demonstrating the companies were aware of the harm their products would create even as they publicly professed the opposite. He said one BASF document referred to dicamba damage complaints as a “ticking time bomb” that “has finally exploded.”

Bader and the other farmers allege that Monsanto was negligent in rolling out genetically engineered cotton and soybeans that could survive being sprayed with dicamba herbicides because it was known that using the crops and chemicals as designed would lead to damage.

Dicamba has been used by farmers since the 1960s but with limits that took into account the chemical’s propensity to drift far from where it was sprayed. When Monsanto’s popular glyphosate weed killing products such as Roundup started losing effectiveness due to widespread weed resistance, Monsanto decided to launch a dicamba cropping system similar to its popular Roundup Ready system, which paired glyphosate-tolerant seeds with glyphosate herbicides.

Farmers buying the new genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds could more easily treat stubborn weeds by spraying  entire fields with dicamba, even during warm growing months, without harming their crops, according to Monsanto, which announced a  dicamba collaboration with BASF in 2011. The companies said their new dicamba herbicides would be less volatile and less prone to drift than old formulations of dicamba. But they refused to allow for independent scientific testing.

The EPA approved the use of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide “XtendiMax” in 2016. BASF developed its own dicamba herbicide that it calls Engenia. Both XtendiMax and Engenia were first sold in the United States in 2017.

DuPont also introduced a dicamba herbicide and could also face multiple farmer lawsuits, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

In their legal claims,  farmers allege that they have experienced damage both from the drift of old versions of dicamba and drifting newer versions as well. The farmers claim that the companies hoped fears of drift damage would force farmers to buy the special GMO dicamba-tolerant seeds in order to protect their cotton and soybean fields.

Farmers growing other types of crops have been without any means to protect their fields.

North Carolina farmer Marty Harper, who grows about 4,000 acres of tobacco as well as peanuts, cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat, and sweet potatoes, said dicamba-related damage to his tobacco fields exceeds  $200,000.  He said part of his peanut crop has also been damaged.

More than 2,700 farms have suffered dicamba damage, according to University of Missouri crop science professor Kevin Bradley.

IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News

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Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and other sources shine light on the inner workings of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a trade group funded by large food and agrichemical companies, and its nonprofit “public education arm” the IFIC Foundation. The IFIC groups conduct research and training programs, produce marketing materials and coordinate other industry groups to communicate industry spin about food safety and nutrition. Messaging includes promoting and defending sugar, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, food additives, pesticides and genetically engineered foods.

Spinning pesticide cancer report for Monsanto 

As one example of how IFIC partners with corporations to promote agrichemical products and deflect cancer concerns, this internal Monsanto document identifies IFIC as an “industry partner” in Monsanto’s public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research team, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), to “protect the reputation” of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, IARC judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.

Monsanto listed IFIC as a Tier 3 “industry partner” along with two other food-industry funded groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Center for Food Integrity.

How IFIC tries to communicate its message to women.

The groups were identified as part of a “Stakeholder Engagement team” that could alert the food companies to Monsanto’s “inoculation strategy” for the glyphosate cancer report.

Blogs later posted on the IFIC website illustrate the group’s patronizing “don’t worry, trust us” messaging to women.  Entries include, “8 crazy ways they’re trying to scare you about fruits and vegetables,” “Cutting through the clutter on glyphosate,” and “Before we freak out, let’s ask the experts … the real experts.”

Corporate funders  

IFIC spent over $22 million in the five-year period from 2013-2017, while the IFIC Foundation spent over $5 million in those five years, according to tax forms filed with the IRS. Corporations and industry groups that support IFIC, according to public disclosures, include the American Beverage Association, American Meat Science Association, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Bayer CropScience, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Dannon, DowDuPont, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, Perdue Farms and PepsiCo.

Draft tax records for the IFIC Foundation, obtained via state records requests, list the corporations that funded the group in 2011, 2013 or both: Grocery Manufacturers Association, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Hershey, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever. The US Department of Agriculture gave IFIC Foundation $177,480 of taxpayer money in 2013 to produce a “communicator’s guide” for promoting genetically engineered foods.

IFIC also solicits money from corporations for specific product-defense campaigns. This April 28, 2014 email from an IFIC executive to a long list of corporate board members asks for $10,000 contributions to update the “Understanding our Food” initiative to improve consumer views of processed foods. The email notes previous financial supporters: Bayer, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Mars, McDonalds, Monsanto, Nestle, PepsiCo and DuPont.

Promotes GMOs to school children  

IFIC coordinated 130 groups via the Alliance to Feed the Future on messaging efforts to “improve understanding” about genetically engineered foods. Members include the American Council on Science and Health, the Calorie Control Council, the Center for Food Integrity and The Nature Conservancy.

The Alliance to Feed the Future provided free educational curricula to teach students to promote genetically engineered foods, including “The Science of Feeding the World” for K-8 teachers and “Bringing Biotechnology to Life” for grades 7-10.

The inner workings of IFIC’s PR services 

A series of documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know provide a sense of how IFIC operates behind the scenes to spin bad news and defend the products of its corporate sponsors.

Connects reporters to industry-funded scientists  

  • May 5, 2014 email from Matt Raymond, senior director of communications, alerted IFIC leadership and “media dialogue group” to “high profile stories in which IFIC is currently involved” to help spin negative news coverage, including responding to the movie Fed Up. He noted they had connected a New York Times reporter with “Dr. John Sievenpiper, our noted expert in the field of sugars.” Sievenpiper “is among a small group of Canadian academic scientists who have received hundreds of thousands in funding from soft-drink makers, packaged-food trade associations and the sugar industry, turning out studies and opinion articles that often coincide with those businesses’ interests,” according to the National Post.
  • Emails from 2010 and 2012 suggest that IFIC relies on a small group of industry-connected scientists to confront studies that raise concerns about GMOs. In both emails, Bruce Chassy, a University of Illinois professor who received undisclosed funds from Monsanto to promote and defend GMOs, advises IFIC on how to respond to studies raising concerns about GMOs.

DuPont executive suggests stealth strategy to confront Consumer Reports

  • In a February 3, 2013 email, IFIC staff alerted its “media relations group” that Consumer Reports reported concerns about the safety and environmental impact of GMOs. Doyle Karr, DuPont’s director of biotechnology policy and vice president of the board of Center for Food Integrity, forwarded the email to a scientist with a query for response ideas, and suggested confronting Consumer Reports with this stealth tactic: “Maybe create a letter to the editor signed by 1,000 scientists who have no affiliation with the biotech seed companies stating that they take issue with (Consumer Reports’) statements on the safety and environmental impact. ??”

Other PR services IFIC provides to industry

  • Disseminates misleading industry talking points: April 25, 2012 mail to the 130 members of the Alliance to Feed the Future “on behalf of Alliance member Grocery Manufacturers Association” claimed that the California ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods “would effectively ban the sale of tens of thousands of grocery products in California unless they contain special labels.”
  • Confronts books critical of processed foods: February 20, 2013 email describes IFIC’s strategy to spin two books critical of the food industry, “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss, and “Pandora’s Lunchbox” by Melanie Warner. Plans included writing book reviews, disseminating talking points and “exploring additional options to enhance engagement in the digital media measured by the extent of coverage.” In a February 22, 2013 email, an IFIC executive reached out to three academics — Roger Clemens of the University of Southern California, Mario Ferruzzi of Purdue University and Joanne Slavin of University of Minnesota — to ask them to be available for media interviews about the books. The email provided the academics with summaries of the two books and IFIC’s talking points defending processed foods. “We will appreciate you sharing any specific talking points about specific science issues that are raised in the books,” states the email from Marianne Smith Edge, IFIC’s senior vice president of nutrition and food safety.
  • Research and surveys to support industry positions; one example is a 2012 survey that found 76% of consumers “can’t think of anything additional they would like to see on the label” that was used by industry groups to oppose GMO labeling.
  • “Don’t worry, trust us” marketing brochures, such as this one explaining that food additives and colors are nothing to worry about. The chemicals and dyes “have played an important role in reducing serious nutritional deficiencies among consumers,” according to the IFIC Foundation brochure that was “prepared under a partnering agreement with the US Food and Drug Administration.”

originally posted May 31, 2018 and updated in February 2020

As settlement talks drag on, another Monsanto Roundup trial nears

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Continuing to lack a resolution in the massive nationwide Roundup cancer litigation, a leading U.S. plaintiffs’ law firm is pressing ahead with preparations for a California trial involving a critically ill cancer patient and his wife who are suing the former Monsanto company claiming the man’s disease is due to years of his use of Roundup herbicide.

The Miller Firm, which has about 6,000 Roundup plaintiffs, is now preparing to go to trial against Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG on May 5 in Marin County Superior Court in California. The case has been granted preference status –  meaning a quick trial date – because plaintiff Victor Berliant is critically ill. A deposition of Berliant is being scheduled for next week.

Berliant, a man in his 70s, has been diagnosed with Stage IV T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is planning to undergo a bone marrow transplant in March after multiple rounds of chemotherapy failed. His lawyers say it is necessary to take his deposition before the transplant as there is a risk he may not survive the procedure or may be otherwise unable to participate at the May trial.

Berliant used Roundup from approximately 1989 to 2017, according to his lawsuit. His wife, Linda Berliant, is also named as a plaintiff, asserting loss of consortium and other damages.

Other cases with trial dates are pending in the St. Louis, Missouri area and in Kansas City,  Missouri, including one case with more than 80 plaintiffs scheduled for trial March 30 in St. Louis City Court. A hearing was supposed to be held today in that case, Seitz v. Monsanto, but was cancelled.

The Miller firm is one of the primary plaintiffs’ firms in the Roundup litigation and caused a stir last month by canceling a St. Louis trial shortly before opening statements were to begin in order to facilitate settlement talks.

The fact that the Miller firm is pressing ahead with more trials underscores the lack of agreement between Bayer and the attorneys for a pool of plaintiffs that some sources say now numbers above 100,000.

Both the Miller firm and the firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, which have close to 20,000 plaintiffs combined, have been at the forefront of negotiations, sources close to the litigation say.

Certain plaintiffs who have agreed to cancel their trials have secured agreements on specific settlement amounts, sources involved in the litigation said, while other parties are said to be discussing deals that are contingent upon the successful completion of a larger overall settlement of the U.S. litigation.

But a comprehensive settlement to put the Roundup claims to rest for the long term remains challenging, sources said. Settling with the current pool of plaintiffs will not protect Bayer from future litigation over Roundup cancer causation claims.

The Wall Street Journal has called the effort to forge a settlement an “extraordinary challenge.” 

Many Bayer investors are hoping for a resolution no later than Bayer’s annual meeting on April 28 in Bonn, Germany.

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 in June of 2018 for $63 billion.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and Bayer as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal but the company’s share prices has been sharply depressed by the repeated trial losses.

The trials have turned a public spotlight on internal Monsanto record  that showed how Monsanto engineered scientific papers proclaiming the safety of its herbicides that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; used third parties to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with glyphosate herbicides; and collaborated with Environmental Protection Agency officials to protect Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

“The last thing Bayer wants is another bad headline on the Roundup litigation” said Marine Chriqui, a London-based market analyst. “I think it is really important for them not to be in a difficult situation at the time of the meeting. “

Some industry observers suggest that Bayer may continue to settle each case just before trial for many months as appeals play out.

Lawyers for both sides are currently awaiting a date for oral arguments before the appeals court in the case of Johnson v. Monsanto, which was the first to go to trial in the summer of 2018.

Some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys are contemplating making an appearance in Bonn the week of the shareholders’ meeting if a settlement is not achieved, litigation sources said.