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.

Jury Deliberating

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(Video update)

(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.

The question that must be answered on the jury verdict form is fairly straightforward:

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.

Hardeman to Testify, Sick Juror or Not

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(Transcript from today’s proceedings)

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 any sort of speculation about how the use of the sprayer could have influenced 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 can provide now is that the Plaintiffs are not allowed to spray you with the sprayer.
MS. MATTHEWS (Monsanto attorney): Okay.
THE COURT: And they are definitely not allowed to spray 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.

See this snippet from Monday’s discussion of this topic:

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 said something to the jury — even before we get to your second
point, you have already said something to the jury that is contradicted to a degree by an internal Monsanto document. And so why shouldn’t they be able to cast doubt on Monsanto’s assertion to the jury that genotox doesn’t matter bye stablishing that Monsanto hired a doctor to — or hired an
expert to look at the issue of genotoxicity in the late ’90s and the expert raised concerns about genotoxicity? … I mean, Monsanto itself investigated genotox – hired somebody to investigate genotox, and that person concluded 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.

Cancer Victim to Take the Stand (Not.)

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(Transcript from today’s proceedings)

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.