Bayer Makes Bid for “Trust” Amid Third Monsanto Cancer Trial

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Bayer AG, which bought Monsanto last summer, said Monday that it was making scientific studies available for public scrutiny in an effort to counter growing concerns about the safety of Monsanto’s flagship glyphosate-based herbicide products.

“Transparency is a catalyst for trust, so more transparency is a good thing for consumers, policymakers and businesses, Liam Condon, president of Bayer’s crop science division, said in a statement. Safety, he said, is the company’s top priority.

The comments come as pressure is mounting on Bayer management as roughly 11,000 people are suing Monsanto alleging glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Monsanto has hidden the risks and manipulated the scientific record. The first Roundup cancer trial resulted in a jury verdict of $289 million in damages against Monsanto, though a judge later lowered that to $78 million. The second such trial ended last month with a jury verdict of $80.2 million against Monsanto. The third trial is now underway.

Last week U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria told Bayer attorneys and plaintiffs’ attorneys that he would like the parties to enter into mediation to discuss a possible settlement. He vacated a fourth trial set to begin in May.

Monsanto and Bayer deny the allegations and say the weight of science supports the safety of glyphosate herbicides. They also deny claims that company scientists ghost-wrote seemingly independent scientific papers and otherwise manipulated the scientific record.

“By making our detailed scientific safety data available, we encourage anyone interested to see for themselves how comprehensive our approach to safety is. We embrace the opportunity to engage in dialogue so we can build more trust in sound science,” said Condon.

The company said it was providing access to 107 Bayer-owned glyphosate safety study reports that were submitted to the European Food Safety Authority as part of the substance authorization process in the European Union. The studies are accessible on Bayer’s transparency platform.

The news from Bayer comes ahead of an April 26 shareholders meeting in which some investors are calling for the head of Bayer CEO Werner Baumann for leading the company into the Monsanto acquisition. Monsanto’s top management walked away with millions of dollars in exit packages just before the first Roundup cancer trial, leaving Bayer holding the bag for the litigation losses and the bad publicity. Since last summer, the company has seen an exodus of customers as retailers, cities, school districts and others say they are backing away from the Monsanto herbicides.

As Bayer focuses on its messaging outside the court room, epidemiologist Beate Ritz, professor at the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health, is due to take the stand today in Pilliod v. Monsanto,  the third Roundup cancer trial. Ritz has testified in the two prior trials that her analysis of several scientific studies shows that  there is a “credible link” between glyphosate-based herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The current case was brought by Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a married couple who both have non-Hodgkin lymphoma they allege is due to years of Roundup use.

Following Ritz will be testimony from Dennis Weisenburger, a pathologist specializing in studying the causes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Weisenburger testified in the Edwin Hardeman v. Monsanto trial that Roundup is a “substantial cause” of cancer in people who are exposed.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs’ attorneys continue to worry about what they believe to be “geofencing” by Monsanto.   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.  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. Targeted individuals don’t have to be searching for information; it just appears on their smart phone.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys raised the issue in the Hardeman case, and had concerns that Monsanto was pushing messaging to jurors through geofencing in the first Roundup cancer trial, which was brought by groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson.

In the Pilliod case, the issue was discussed Thursday in court as the plaintiffs attorneys sought a judicial order to prohibit Monsanto from the tactic, but the judge was skeptical and declined to issue such an order.

Here is part of the exchange. All can be seen in the trial transcript. 

PLAINTIFFS’ ATTORNEY BRENT WISNER:  Your Honor, I think there’s one — and I get your point. I think just to clarify one procedural factual thing. Right? If I were to walk over to a juror personally and say to you, “Hey, Juror Number 3, Monsanto’s stuff causes cancer and all these studies show it,” I mean, that would be a mistrial. Instantaneously. That’s jury tampering. Right? Now if they do that same thing — if I did the same thing by targeting every person’s phone in this courtroom or every single person’s phone in this courthouse and pushing that information, that same message to them on their phone — and what happens is -­  I don’t know if you use your phone for this kind of purposes, but, for example, when I look at my ESPN app and I’m looking at the scores for the UCLA water polo team, or whatever, you know, there’s little ads that pop up.

THE COURT: Sure.

MR. WISNER: And those ads are saying “Federal judge says Roundup is safe.” That’s the kind of stuff
we’re seeing. We saw this happening with quite intensity in the Johnson trial. Numerous jurors during voir dire mentioned that they were having these things pushed on them as soon as they walked in the building. And so whether or not Monsanto is or is not doing that, I think that if they are, that should be
prohibited. That’s not really a point of First Amendment. That is now clearly targeting people that
they know they can’t speak to.

THE COURT: And you’re asking me to assign a subjective intent that I don’t know exists and it’s
still prior restraint. I mean, technology has taken us places probably we never thought it would go… I guess if I were picking sides, I might believe that. But I can’t pick sides.

Reporting From Court

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Documents from Day 1 in the Hardeman trial are posted here.

See Transcript of proceedings.

See Plaintiff’s Opening Slide Deck and Monsanto’s Opening Slide Deck

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.

11:38 a.m.Evidence of the judge’s ire in opening round of federal Roundup cancer trial: pre trial order for plaintiff’s attorney to show cause why she should not be sanctioned by 8 p.m. tonight.

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 @Bayer Monsanto Roundup cancer trial.
  • Judge also tells her to “move on” when she tries to explain that @EPA only assesses glyphosate and not whole product.
  • She is allowed brief mention of @IARCWHO classification of glyphosate as probable human carcinogen but judge cuts her off before she can say much.
  • In opening statement for @Bayer Monsanto 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 @EPA memo “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.