Thailand’s reversal on glyphosate ban came after Bayer scripted U.S. intervention, documents show

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A year ago Thailand was set to ban the widely used weed killing chemical glyphosate, a move applauded by public health advocates because of evidence the chemical causes cancer, along with other harms to people and the environment.

But under heavy pressure from U.S. officials, Thailand’s government reversed the planned ban on glyphosate last November and delayed imposing bans on two other agricultural pesticides despite the fact that the country’s National Hazardous Substances Committee said a ban was necessary to protect consumers.

A ban, particularly on glyphosate, would “severely impact” Thai imports of soybeans, wheat and other agricultural commodities, U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Ted McKinney warned Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha in pushing for the reversal. Imports could be impacted because those commodities, and many others, typically are laced with residues of glyphosate.

Now, newly revealed emails between government officials and Monsanto parent Bayer AG show that McKinney’s actions, and those taken by other U.S. government officials to convince Thailand not to ban glyphosate, were largely scripted and pushed by Bayer.

The emails were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation organization. The group sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Commerce on Wednesday seeking additional public records regarding the actions of the departments of trade and agriculture in pressuring Thailand on the glyphosate issue. There are several documents the government has thus far refused to release regarding communications with Bayer and other companies, the organization said.

“It’s bad enough that this administration has ignored independent science to blindly support Bayer’s self-serving assertions of glyphosate’s safety,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But to then act as Bayer’s agent to pressure other countries to adopt that position is outrageous.”

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup herbicides and other brands developed by Monsanto, which are worth billions of dollars in annual sales. Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018 and has been struggling ever since to suppress mounting global concerns about scientific research showing that glyphosate herbicides can cause a blood cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The company is also fighting off lawsuits involving more than 100,000 plaintiffs who claim their development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma was caused by exposure to Roundup and other Monsanto glyphosate-based herbicides.

Glyphosate weed killers are the most widely used herbicides in the world, in large part because Monsanto developed genetically engineered crops that tolerate being sprayed directly with the chemical. Though useful to farmers in keeping fields free of weeds, the practice of spraying herbicide over the tops of growing crops leaves varying levels of the pesticide in both raw grain and finished foods. Monsanto and U.S. regulators maintain pesticide levels in food and livestock feed are not harmful to humans or livestock, but many scientists disagree and say even trace amounts can be dangerous.

Different countries set different legal levels for what they determine to be safe amounts of the weed killer in food and raw commodities. Those “maximum residue levels” are referred to as MRLs. The U.S. allows the highest MRLs of glyphosate in food when compared to other countries.

If Thailand banned glyphosate, the allowed level of glyphosate in food likely would be zero, Bayer warned U.S. officials.

High-level help

The emails show that in September 2019 and again in early October of 2019 James Travis, senior director for Bayer international government affairs and trade, sought assistance in reversing the glyphosate ban from multiple high-level officials from the USDA and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).

Among those Bayer sought aid from was Zhulieta Willbrand, who at that time was chief of staff of trade and foreign agricultural affairs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  After Thailand’s decision to reverse the ban on glyphosate, Willbrand was hired to work directly for Bayer on international trade matters.

When asked if the assistance from Willbrand while she was a government official helped her get a job at Bayer, the company said that it “ethically strives” to hire people from “all backgrounds” and any inference that she was hired for any reason other than the immense talent she brings to Bayer is false.”

In an email to Willbrand dated Sept. 18, 2019, Travis told her Bayer thought there was “real value” for U.S. government engagement on the glyphosate ban, and he noted that Bayer was organizing other groups to protest the ban as well.

“On our end, we are educating farmer groups, plantations and business partners so that they too can articulate concerns and the need for a rigorous, science based process,” Travis wrote to Willbrand. Willbrand then forwarded the email to McKinney, the USDA’s Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs.

In an Oct. 8, 2019, email string with the subject line “Summary of Thailand Ban – Developments Moving Quickly,” Travis wrote to Marta Prado, deputy assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, copying Willbrand and others, to update them on the situation.

Travis wrote that Thailand looked poised to ban glyphosate at a “dramatically” accelerated pace, by December 1, 2019. Along with glyphosate, the country was planning to also ban chlorpyrifos, an insecticide made popular by Dow Chemical that is known to damage babies’ brains; and paraquat, a herbicide scientists say causes the nervous system disease known as Parkinson’s.

Travis pointed out the risk a glyphosate ban would pose to sales of U.S. commodities because of the MRL issue and provided other background material the officials could use to engage with Thailand.

“In light of recent developments, we are growing more concerned that some policymakers and lawmakers are rushing the process and will not thoroughly consult all farming stakeholders nor fully consider the economic and environmental impact of banning glyphosate,” Travis wrote to the U.S. officials.

The email exchanges show that Bayer and U.S. officials discussed potential personal motivations of Thai officials and how such intelligence could be useful. “Knowing what motivates her may help with USG counter arguments,” one U.S. official wrote to Bayer about one Thai leader.

Travis suggested that U.S. officials engage much as they had with Vietnam when that country moved in April 2019 to ban glyphosate.

Shortly after the appeal from Bayer, McKinney wrote to the Thailand Prime Minister about the matter. In an Oct. 17, 2019 letter McKinney, who previously worked for Dow Agrosciences, invited Thailand officials to Washington for an in-person discussion about glyphosate safety and the Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that glyphosate “poses no meaningful risk to human health when used as authorized.”

“Should a ban be implemented it would severely impact Thailand’s imports of agricultural commodities such as soybean and wheat,” McKinney wrote. “I urge you to delay a decision on glyphosate until we can arrange an opportunity for U.S. technical experts to share the most relevant information to address Thailand’s concerns.”

A little more than a month later, on Nov. 27, Thailand reversed the planned glyphosate ban. It also said it would delay bans on paraquat and chlorpyrifos for several months.

Thailand did finalize bans of paraquat and chlorpyrifos on June 1, of this year. But glyphosate remains in use. 

When asked about its engagement with U.S. officials on the issue, Bayer issued the following statement:

Like many companies and organizations operating in highly regulated industries, we provide information and contribute to science-based policymaking and regulatory processes. Our engagements with all those in the public sector are routine, professional, and consistent with all laws and regulations.

The Thai authorities’ reversal of the ban on glyphosate is consistent with the science-based determinations by regulatory bodies around the world, including in the United StatesEuropeGermanyAustraliaKoreaCanadaNew ZealandJapan and elsewhere that have repeatedly concluded that our glyphosate-based products can be used safely as directed.

 Thai farmers have used glyphosate safely and successfully for decades to produce essential crops including cassava, corn, sugar cane, fruits, oil palm, and rubber. Glyphosate has helped farmers to improve their livelihoods and meet community expectations of safe, affordable food that is produced sustainably.”

 

Appeals court denies Monsanto bid for Roundup case rehearing

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A California appeals court on Tuesday rejected Monsanto’s effort to trim $4 million from the amount of money it owes a California groundskeeper who is struggling to survive cancer that a jury found was caused by the man’s exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides.

The Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District of California also rejected the company’s request for a rehearing of the matter.  The court’s decision followed its ruling last month slamming Monsanto  for its denial of the strength of the evidence that its glyphosate-based weed killers cause cancer. In that July ruling, the court said that plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson had presented “abundant” evidence that Monsanto’s weed killer caused his cancer.  “Expert after expert provided evidence both that Roundup products are capable of causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma…  and caused Johnson’s cancer in particular,” the appeals court stated in its July decision.

In that decision from last month, the appeals court did, however, cut the damage award owed to Johnson, ordering Monsanto to pay $20.5 million, down from $78 million ordered by the trial judge and down from $289 million ordered by the jury who decided Johnson’s case in August 2018.

In addition to the $20.5 million Monsanto owes Johnson, the company is ordered to pay $519,000 in costs.

Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer AG in 2018, had urged the court to cut the award to Johnson to $16.5 million.

Dicamba decision also stands

Tuesday’s court decision followed a decision issued Monday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denying a rehearing of the court’s June decision to vacate the approval of the dicamba-based weed killing product Bayer inherited from Monsanto. That June ruling also effectively banned dicamba-based herbicides made by BASF and Corteva Agriscience.

The companies had petitioned for a broader group of judges from the Ninth Circuit judges to rehear the case, arguing that the decision to revoke regulatory approvals for the products was unfair. But the court flatly rejected that rehearing request.

In its June decision, the Ninth Circuit said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had violated the law when it approved the dicamba products developed by Monsanto/Bayer, BASF and Corteva.

The court ordered an immediate ban on use of each of the company’s dicamba products, finding that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” of the dicamba herbicides and “failed entirely to acknowledge other risks.”

The court decision banning the company’s dicamba products triggered an uproar in farm country because many soybean and cotton farmers planted millions of acres of genetically altered dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto with the intent of treating weeds in those fields with the dicamba herbicides made by the three companies. Similar to “Roundup Ready” glyphosate-tolerant crops, the dicamba-tolerant crops allow farmers to spray dicamba over their fields tyo kill weeds without harming their crops.

When Monsanto, BASF and DuPont/Corteva rolled out their dicamba herbicides a few years ago they  claimed the products would not volatize and drift into neighboring fields as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances proved false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage.

More than one million acres of crops not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba were reported damaged last year in 18 states, the federal court noted in its June ruling.

New weed killer studies raise concern for reproductive health

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As Bayer AG seeks to discount concerns that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, several new studies are raising questions about the chemical’s potential impact on reproductive health.

An assortment of animal studies released this summer indicate that glyphosate exposures impact reproductive organs and could threaten fertility, adding fresh evidence that the weed killing agent might be an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disrupting chemicals may mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones and are linked with developmental and reproductive problems as well as brain and immune system dysfunction.

In a paper published last month in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, four researchers from Argentina said that studies contradict assurances by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that glyphosate is safe.

The new research comes as Bayer is attempting to settle more than 100,000 claims brought in the United States by people who allege exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicide products caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The plaintiffs in the nationwide litigation also claim Monsanto has long sought to hide the risks of its herbicides.

Bayer inherited the Roundup litigation when it bought Monsanto in 2018, shortly before the first of three trial victories for plaintiffs.

The studies also come as consumer groups work to better understand how to reduce their exposure to glyphosate through diet. A study published Aug. 11 found that after switching to an organic diet for just a few days, people could cut the levels of glyphosate found in their urine by more than 70 percent. Notably, the researchers found that the children in the study had much higher levels of glyphosate in their urine than did the adults. Both adults and children saw large drops in the presence of the pesticide following the diet change.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is the most widely used weed killer in the world. Monsanto introduced glyphosate-tolerant crops in the 1990s to encourage farmers to spray glyphosate directly over whole fields of crops, killing weeds but not the genetically altered crops. The widespread use of glyphosate, by farmers as well as homeowners, utilities and public entities, has drawn growing concern over the years because of its pervasiveness and fears about what it could be doing to human and environmental health. The chemical is now found commonly in food and water and in human urine.

According to the Argentinian scientists, some of the reported effects of glyphosate seen in the new animal studies are due to exposure to high doses; but there is new evidence showing that even low dose exposure could also alter the development of the female reproductive tract, with consequences on fertility. When animals are exposed to glyphosate before puberty, alterations are seen in the development and differentiation of ovarian follicles and the uterus, the scientists said. Additionally, exposure to herbicides made with glyphosate during gestation could alter the development of the offspring. It all adds up to show that glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides are endocrine disruptors, the researchers concluded.

Agricultural scientist Don Huber, professor emeritus from Purdue University, said the new research expands on knowledge about the potential scope of damage associated with glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides and provides a “better grasp of understanding the seriousness of the exposure that is ubiquitous in our culture now.”

Huber has warned for years that Monsanto’s Roundup might be contributing to fertility problems in livestock.

One noteworthy study published online in July in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology,  determined that glyphosate or glyphosate-based herbicides disrupted “critical hormonal and uterine molecular targets” in exposed pregnant rats.

A different study recently published in the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology by researchers from Iowa State University looked at glyphosate exposure in mice. The researchers concluded that chronic low-level exposure to glyphosate “alters the ovarian proteome” (a set of expressed proteins in a given type of cell or organism) and “may ultimately impact ovarian function. In a related paper from the same two Iowa State researchers and one additional author, published in Reproductive Toxicology, the researchers said they did not find endocrine disrupting effects in the mice exposed to glyphosate, however.  

Researchers from the University of Georgia reported in the journal Veterinary and Animal Science that consumption by livestock of grain laced with glyphosate residues appeared to carry potential harm for the animals, according to a review of studies on the topic. Based on the literature review, glyphosate-based herbicides appear to act as “reproductive toxicants, having a wide range of effects on both the male and female reproductive systems,” the researchers said.

Alarming results were also seen in sheep. A study published in the journal Environmental Pollution looked at the impacts of glyphosate exposure on the development of the uterus in female lambs. They found changes that they said might affect the female reproductive health of sheep and show glyphosate-based herbicides acting as an endocrine disruptor.

Also published in Environmental Pollution, scientists from Finland and Spain said in a new paper that they had performed the first long-term experiment of the effects of “sub-toxic” glyphosate exposure on poultry. They experimentally exposed female and male quails to glyphosate-based herbicides from the ages of 10 days to 52 weeks.

The researchers concluded that the glyphosate herbicides could “modulate key physiological pathways, antioxidant status, testosterone, and the microbiome” but they did not detect effects on reproduction. They said the effects of glyphosate may not always be visible with “traditional, especially short-term, toxicology testing, and such testing may not fully capture the risks…”

Glyphosate and Neonicotinoids

One of the newest studies looking at glyphosate impacts on health was published this month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.  Researchers concluded that glyphosate as well as the insecticides thiacloprid and imidacloprid, were potential endocrine disruptors.

The insecticides are part of the neonicotinoid class of chemicals and are among the most heavily used insecticides in the world.

The researchers said that they monitored the effect of glyphosate and the two neonicotinoids on two critical targets of the endocrine system: Aromatase, the enzyme responsible for estrogen biosynthesis, and estrogen receptor alpha, the main protein promoting estrogen signaling.

Their results were mixed. The researchers said with respect to glyphosate, the weed killer inhibited aromatase activity but the inhibition was “partial and weak.” Importantly the researchers said glyphosate did not induce estrogenic activity. The results were “consistent” with the screening program conducted by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which concluded that “there is no convincing evidence of a potential interaction with the estrogen pathway for glyphosate,” they said.

The researchers did see estrogenic activity with imidacloprid and thiacloprid, but at concentrations higher than the pesticide levels measured in human biological samples. The researchers concluded that “low doses of these pesticides should not be considered harmless,” however, because these pesticides, together with other endocrine disrupting chemicals, “might cause an overall estrogenic effect.”

The varying findings come as many countries and localities around the world evaluate whether or not to limit or ban continued use of glyphosate herbicides.

A California appeals court ruled last month that there was “abundant” evidence that glyphosate, together with the other ingredients in Roundup products, caused cancer.

U.S. study shows switch to organic diet can quickly clear pesticide from our bodies

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A new study published Tuesday found that after switching to an organic diet for just a few days, people could cut the levels of a pesticide linked to cancer found in their urine by more than 70 percent.

The researchers collected a total of 158 urine samples from four families –seven adults and nine children – and examined the samples for the presence of the weed killer glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Roundup and other popular herbicides. The participants spent five days on a completely non-organic diet and five days on a completely organic diet.

“This study demonstrates that shifting to an organic diet is an effective way to reduce body burden of glyphosate… This research adds to a growing body of literature indicating that an organic diet may reduce exposure to a range of pesticides in children and adults,” states the study, which was published in the journal Environmental Research.

Notably, the researchers found that the children in the study had much higher levels of glyphosate in their urine than did the adults. Both adults and children saw large drops in the presence of the pesticide following the diet change. The mean urinary glyphosate levels for all subjects dropped 70.93 percent.

Despite its small size, the study is an important one because it shows people can markedly reduce their exposures to pesticides in food even without regulatory action, said Bruce Lanphear, Professor of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University.

Lanphear noted that the study showed children appear to be more heavily exposed than adults, though the reason is unclear.  “If the food is contaminated with pesticides, they will have a higher body burden,” Lanphear said.

Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides are commonly sprayed directly over the top of growing fields of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, canola, wheat, oats and many other crops used to make food, leaving traces in finished food products consumed by people and animals.

The Food and Drug Administration has found glyphosate even in oatmeal  and honey, among other products. And consumer groups have documents glyphosate residues in an array of snacks and cereals.

But glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup have been linked to cancer and other illness and disease in several studies over the years and growing awareness of the research has led to growing fears about exposure to the pesticide through the diet.

Many groups have documented the presence of glyphosate in human urine in recent years. But there have been few studies comparing glyphosate levels in people eating a conventional diet versus a diet made up only of foods grown organically, without the use of pesticides such as glyphosate.

“The outcomes of this research validate the previous research in which organic diets could minimize the intakes of agrochemicals, such as glyphosate,” said Chensheng Lu, adjunct professor of the University of Washington School of Public Health and honorary professor, Southwest University, Chongqing China.

“In my opinion, the underlying message of this paper is to encourage producing more organic foods for people who want to protect themselves from the exposure of agrochemicals. This paper has proven again this absolute right pathway for prevention and protection,” Lu said.

The study was authored by John Fagan and Larry Bohlen, both of the Health Research Institute in Iowa, along with Sharyle Patton, director of the Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center in California and Kendra Klein, a staff scientist at Friends of the Earth, a consumer advocacy group.

The families participating in the study live in Oakland, California, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia.

The study is the second of a two-part research project. In the first, levels of 14 different pesticides were measured in the urine of participants.

Glyphosate is of particular concern because it is the most widely used herbicide in the world and is sprayed on so many food crops. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, said in 2015 that researched showed glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen.

Tens of thousands of people have sued Monsanto claiming exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and many countries and localities around the world have recently limited or banned glyphosate herbicides or are considering doing so.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, is attempting to settle more than 100,000 such claims brought in the United States. The plaintiffs in the nationwide litigation also claim Monsanto has long sought to hide the risks of its herbicides.

A California appeals court ruled last month that there was “abundant” evidence that glyphosate, together with the other ingredients in Roundup products, caused cancer.

Some U.S. Roundup plaintiffs balk at signing Bayer settlement deals; $160,000 average payout eyed

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Plaintiffs in the U.S. Roundup litigation are starting to learn the details of what Bayer AG’s $10 billion settlement of cancer claims actually means for them individually, and some are not liking what they see.

Bayer said in late June it had negotiated settlements with several major plaintiffs’ law firms in a deal that would effectively close out the bulk of more than 100,000 pending claims against Monsanto, which was purchased by Bayer in 2018. Plaintiffs in the litigation allege they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma from exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup and other herbicides made with a chemical called glyphosate, and that Monsanto covered up the risks.

While the deal initially seemed like good news for the plaintiffs – some who’ve struggled for years with cancer treatments and others who sued on behalf of deceased spouses – many are finding they could end up with little to no money, depending upon a range of factors. The law firms, however, could pocket hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It’s a win for the law firms and a slap in the face of the harmed” said one plaintiff, who did not want to be named.

Plaintiffs are being told they must decide in the next few weeks if they’re going to accept the settlements, even though they won’t know how much they will personally be paid until much later. All the settlement deals order the plaintiffs not to talk publicly about the details, threatening them with sanctions if they discuss the settlements with anyone other than “immediate family members” or a financial advisor.

This has angered some who say they are considering rejecting the settlements in favor of seeking out other law firms to handle their claims. This reporter has reviewed documents sent to multiple plaintiffs.

For those who do agree, payments could be made as early as February, though the process of paying all the plaintiffs is expected to stretch out a year or more. Communications sent out from law firms to their Roundup clients sketch out both the process each cancer-stricken individual will need to go through to obtain a financial payout and what those payouts might amount to. The terms of the deals vary from law firm to law firm, meaning similarly situated plaintiffs may end up with vastly different individual settlements.

One of the stronger deals appears to be one negotiated by The Miller Firm, and even that is disappointing to some of the firm’s clients. In communications to clients, the firm said it was able to negotiate roughly $849 million from Bayer to cover the claims of more than 5,000 Roundup clients. The firm estimates the average gross settlement value for each plaintiff at roughly $160,000. That gross amount will further be reduced by the deduction of attorneys’ fees and costs.

Though attorneys’ fees can vary by firm and plaintiff, many in the Roundup litigation are charging 30-40 percent in contingency fees.

To be eligible for the settlement, plaintiffs must have medical records supporting diagnosis of certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and be able to show they were exposed at least a year before their diagnosis.

The Miller Firm has been at the forefront of the Roundup litigation since the outset, unearthing many of the damning internal Monsanto documents that helped win all three Roundup trials held to date. The Miller Firm handled two of those trials, bringing in lawyers from the Los Angeles firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman to help with the case of  Dewayne “Lee” Johnson after Miller Firm founder Mike Miller was severely injured in an accident just prior to trial. The two firms additionally worked together in winning the case of husband-and-wife plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod.  Johnson was awarded $289 million and the Pilliods were awarded more than $2 billion though the trial judges in each case lowered the awards.

Earlier this month, a California appeals court rejected Monsanto’s effort to overturn the Johnson verdict, ruling that there was “abundant” evidence that Roundup products caused Johnson’s cancer but reducing Johnson’s award to $20.5 million. Appeals are still pending in the other two verdicts against Monsanto.

Scoring Plaintiffs

To determine how much each plaintiff receives from the settlement with Bayer, a third-party administrator will score each individual using factors that include the type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma each plaintiff  developed; the plaintiff’s age at diagnosis; the severity of the person’s cancer and the extent of treatment they endured; other risk factors; and the amount of exposure they had to Monsanto herbicides.

One element of the settlement that caught many plaintiffs off guard was learning that those who ultimately receive money from Bayer will have to use their funds to pay back part of the costs of their cancer treatments that were covered by Medicare or private insurance. With some cancer treatments running into the hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars, that could quickly erase a plaintiff’s payout. The law firms are lining up third-party contractors who will negotiate with the insurance providers to seek discounted reimbursements, the plaintiffs have been told. Typically in this sort of mass tort litigation, those medical liens can be substantially reduced, the law firms said.

In one aspect of the deal welcomed by plaintiffs, the settlements will be structured to avoid tax liability, according to the information provided to plaintiffs.

Risks in Not Settling  

The law firms must get a majority of their plaintiffs to agree to the terms of the settlements in order for them to proceed. According to the information provided to plaintiffs, settlements are desired now because of a number of risks associated with continuing to pursue additional trials. Among the risks identified:

  • Bayer has threatened to file for bankruptcy, and if the company did take that route, settling Roundup claims would take far longer and likely ultimately result in far less money for plaintiffs.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a letter last August telling Monsanto that the agency won’t allow for a cancer warning on Roundup. That helps Monsanto’s future chances of prevailing in court.
  • Covid-related court delays mean additional Roundup trials are unlikely for a year or more.

It is not unusual for plaintiffs in mass tort litigation to walk away disappointed even with seemingly large settlements negotiated for their cases.  The 2019 book “Mass Tort Deals: Backroom Bargaining in Multidistrict Litigation” by Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, the Fuller E. Callaway Chair of Law at the University of Georgia,  makes the case that a lack of checks and balances in mass tort litigation benefits nearly everyone involved except the plaintiffs.

Burch cites as an example litigation over the acid-reflux medicine Propulsid, and said she found that of the 6,012 plaintiffs who entered into the settlement program, only 37 ultimately received any money. The rest received no payouts but had already agreed to dismiss their lawsuits as a condition of entering into the settlement program. Those 37 plaintiffs collectively received little more than $6.5 million (roughly $175,000 each on average), while the lead law firms for the plaintiffs received $27 million, according to Burch,

Setting aside what individual plaintiffs may or may not walk away with,  some legal observers close to the Roundup litigation said a greater good has been achieved with the exposure of corporate wrongdoing by Monsanto.

Among the evidence that has emerged through the litigation are internal Monsanto documents showing the company engineered the publishing of scientific papers that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; the funding of, and collaborating with, front groups that were used to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with Monsanto’s herbicides; and collaborations with certain officials inside the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect and promote Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

Several countries around the world, as well as local governments and school districts, have moved to ban glyphosate herbicides, and/or other pesticides because of the revelations of the Roundup litigation.

(Story first appeared in Environmental Health News.)

Bayer backs away from plan to contain future Roundup cancer claims

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Monsanto owner Bayer AG is backing away from a plan to contain future Roundup cancer claims after a federal judge made it clear he would not approve the scheme, which would delay new trials and limit jury decision-making.

The plan concocted by Bayer and a small group of lawyers was filed last month in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as part of a effort by Bayer to put an end to sweeping litigation that has so far led to three losses in three jury trials, staggering punitive damage awards and shareholder discontent. More than 100,000 people in the United States claim exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and that Monsanto long knew about and covered up the cancer risks.

On Monday Judge Vince Chhabria issued an order setting a hearing on the matter for July 24 and making it clear he would not approve the settlement plan. He was “skeptical of the propriety and fairness of the proposed settlement,” Chhabria wrote in the order.

Prior to the judge’s order, multiple parties filed notices of their own opposition to the Bayer plan; citing “major deviations from ordinary practices” called for in the proposed settlement.

In response, on Wednesday the group of lawyers who had structured the deal with Bayer filed a notice of withdrawal of their plan.

The proposed settlement plan for future class action litigation was separate from the settlement agreement Bayer made with lawyers for plaintiffs who have already filed cases and is designed to help Bayer contain and manage future liability.  Under the structure put together by Bayer and a small group of plaintiffs’ lawyers the class action settlement would have applied to anyone exposed to Roundup who had not filed a lawsuit or retained a lawyer as of June 24, 2020, regardless of whether or not that person already had been diagnosed with cancer they believe was due to Roundup exposure.

The plan would have delayed the filing of new cases for four years, and called for the establishment of a five-member “science panel” that would take any future findings on cancer claims out of the hands of  juries. Instead, a “Class Science Panel” would be established to determine whether Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and if so, at what minimum exposure levels.  Bayer would get to appoint two of the five panel members. If the panel determined there was no causal connection between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma then the class members would be barred from future such claims.

Judge Chhabria took issue with the whole idea of a science panel. In his order, the judge wrote:

“In an area where the science may be evolving, how could it be appropriate to lock in a decision from a panel of scientists for all future cases? For examine, imagine the panel decides in 2023 that Roundup is not capable of causing cancer. Then imagine that a new, reliable study is published in 2028 which strongly undermines the panel’s conclusion. If a Roundup user is diagnosed with NHL in 2030, is it appropriate to tell them that they’re bound by the 2023 decision of the panel because they did not opt out of a settlement in 2020?”

Bayer said it would set aside $1.25 billion for the arrangement. The money would be used to compensate class members diagnosed with NHL for the “effects of the delay” in litigation, and to fund research into the diagnosis and treatment of NHL, among other things.

The plaintiffs’  attorneys who put the plan together with Bayer stood to make more than $150 million in fees payable by Bayer. They are not the same law firms that have led the litigation to date. This group of law firms include Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; Audet & Partners; The Dugan Law Firm; and lawyer Samuel Issacharoff, Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law.

Several members of the lead law firms who won the three Roundup cancer trials oppose the proposed class action settlement plan, saying it would deprive future plaintiffs of their rights while enriching those other lawyers who have not previously been at the forefront of the Roundup litigation.

It is not clear how the withdrawal of this proposed class action settlement plan might impact the larger settlement of existing claims. Bayer said last month it will pay up to $9.6 billion to resolve roughly 75 percent of the current claims and will continue working to settle the rest. That settlement does not require court approval.

Bayer issued a statement Wednesday saying it remains “strongly committed to a resolution that simultaneously addresses both the current litigation on reasonable terms and a viable solution to manage and resolve potential future litigation.”

EPA thumbs nose at court order, says farmers can still use illegal dicamba herbicides

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(UPDATES with comment from BASF)

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday declared it would not immediately honor a court ruling handed down last week that banned certain herbicides made by three of the world’s largest chemical companies.

The move by the EPA amounts to a generous gift to BASF, Bayer and Corteva Agrisciences whose dicamba herbicides were deemed by the court to have been approved by the EPA illegally. The court specifically said in its order issued last week that it wanted no delay in vacating those approvals. The court cited damage done by dicamba use in past summers to millions of acres of crops, orchards and vegetable plots across U.S. farm country.

But the EPA announced Monday that it was issuing a “cancellation order” that would give farmers until July 31 to use existing stocks of Bayer’s Xtendimax, BASF’s Engenia, and Corteva’s FeXapan.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the EPA made multiple errors in approving the dicamba products and came in response to a petition brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), whose lawyers argued the case for petitioners, said in a statement that the EPA’s action was “disingenuous” and “ignores the well-documented and overwhelming evidence of substantial drift harm to farmers from another disastrous spraying season.” The EPA action also ignores the risks dicamba poses to hundreds of endangered species, CFS said.

“The Trump administration is again showing it has no regard for the rule of law. All users that continue to not seek alternatives should be on notice that they are using a harmful, defective, and unlawful product. We will bring the EPA’s failure to abide by the Court’s order to the Court as expeditiously as possible,” CFS said.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue last week urged the EPA to figure out a way around the court ruling, echoing comments by Bayer, BASF and Corteva that called dicamba herbicides important “tools” for farmers growing genetically engineered soybean and cotton.

The EPA said in deciding to allow farmers to continue to use dicamba through the end of July it was responding to “numerous unsolicited phone calls and emails” telling the agency “there is a real concern and potential for devastation to cotton and soybean crops that could result in a crisis for the industry.”

The EPA did not acknowledge the scores of farmers growing crops other than dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton who have suffered crop losses from dicamba drift and fear another summer of crop damage.

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas where it could damage crops, gardens, orchards, and shrubs.

Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, upended that restraint when it launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds a few years ago, encouraging farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops during warm-weather growing months.

Monsanto’s move to create the dicamba-tolerant crops came after its glyphosate-tolerant crops and widespread spraying of glyphosate created an epidemic of weed resistance across U.S. farmland.

Farmers, agricultural scientists and other experts warned Monsanto and the EPA that introducing a dicamba-tolerant system would not only create more herbicide resistance but would lead to devastating damage to crops that are not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.

The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances were proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage in recent years. More than one million acres of dicamba crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the court noted.

In February, a unanimous jury awarded a Missouri peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to be paid by Bayer and BASF for dicamba damage to his property.

In a statement issued after the EPA announcement, BASF  said it supported the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of existing stocks of BASF’s Engenia herbicide through July 31, but said “additional clarity and flexibility” was required.  The company said it had immediately suspended selling and shipping Engenia herbicide after last week’s ruling. 

The company said it  will continue to pursue re-registration of Engenia with the EPA and is assessing its options to pursue legal remedies to challenge the court order.

Fresh talk of a settlement between Bayer and Roundup cancer patients

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There was renewed talk of a potential settlement this week between Bayer AG and tens of thousands of cancer patients as a key court hearing looms next week.

According to a report in Bloomberg, lawyers for Bayer have reached verbal agreements with U.S. lawyers representing at least 50,000 plaintiffs who are suing Monsanto over claims that Roundup and other Monsanto herbicides caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The details as reported by Bloomberg appear to be mostly unchanged from prior verbal agreements between Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys that fell apart during the Coronavirus-related courthouse closings. With the courthouses still closed, trial dates have been postponed, taking the pressure off Bayer.

But a new pressure point looms with next week’s hearing in the appeal of the first Roundup cancer trial. The California Court of Appeal First Appellate District is set to hear oral arguments on cross-appeals in the case of Johnson v Monsanto  on June 2.

That case, which pitted California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson against Monsanto, resulted in a $289 million damage award for Johnson in August 2018. The jury found not only that Monsanto’s Roundup and related glyphosate-based brands presented a substantial danger to people using them, but that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Monsanto’s officials acted with “malice or oppression” in failing to adequately warn of the risks.

The trial judge in the Johnson case later lowered the damages to $78.5 million. Monsanto appealed even the reduced award, and Johnson cross-appealed seeking reinstatement of the full jury award.

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. At the very least, 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.

The appeals court judges gave an early hint about how they were leaning on the case, notifying lawyers for the two sides that they should be prepared to discuss the question of damages in the June 2 hearing. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have taken that as an encouraging sign that the judges may not be planning to order a new trial.

Under the terms of the settlement that has been discussed for the last several months, Bayer would pay out a total of $10 billion to bring closure to cases held by several large firms, but would not agree to put warning labels on its glyphosate-based weed killers, as had been demanded by some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The settlement would not cover all of the plaintiffs with pending claims. Nor would it cover Johnson or the other three plaintiffs who already won their claims at trial. Monsanto and Bayer have appealed all the trial losses.

Lawyers at the major firms involved in the litigation declined to discuss the current situation.

Bayer officials have denied there is any scientific evidence linking glyphosate herbicides to cancer, but investors have been pushing for a settlement to resolve the litigation. It would be beneficial to Bayer to settle the cases before any adverse ruling by the appellate court, which could further rattle the company’s shareholders. Bayer bought Monsanto in June of 2018. Following the Johnson trial loss in August 2018, the company’s share price plummeted and has remained under pressure.

Frustrated Plaintiffs

The first lawsuits in the Roundup cancer litigation were filed in late 2015, meaning many plaintiffs have been waiting years for resolution. Some plaintiffs have died while they waited, with their cases now being carried forward by family members frustrated at the lack of progress in bringing cases to a close.

Some plaintiffs have been making video messages directed at Bayer executives, calling for them to agree to settlements and to make changes to warn consumers about potential cancer risks of glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup.

Vincent Tricomi, 68, is one such plaintiff. In the video he made, which he shared with US Right to Know, he said he has undergone 12 rounds of chemotherapy and five hospital stays fighting his cancer. After achieving a temporary remission, the cancer recurred earlier this year, he said.

“There are so many like me who are suffering and need relief,” said Tricomi.  Watch his video message below:

Six Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trials Set for January

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After several months out of the headlines, lawyers for both sides of the nationwide Roundup cancer litigation are gearing up for overlapping trials in the new year as several more cancer patients seek to blame Monsanto for their diseases.

Six trials are currently set to take place starting in January, with one in February, two in March and additional trials scheduled almost every month from April through October 2021. Thousands of additional plaintiffs still are working to get trial dates set for their claims.

The plaintiffs in the upcoming January trials include two children who were stricken by non-Hodgkin lymphoma allegedly after being repeatedly exposed to Monsanto herbicides at very young ages. Also set for January is the trial for a woman named Sharlean Gordon who has suffered several debilitating recurrences of her cancer. Another trial will present the claims of five plaintiffs who claim Monsanto’s herbicides caused their cancers.

Notably, two of the trials in January will take place in the St. Louis, Missouri area – where Monsanto was headquartered for decades before its acquisition in June 2018 by Germany’s Bayer AG. Those two trials will be the first to go before jurors in Monsanto’s home town. Gordon’s case was supposed to go to trial in the area last August but was postponed, as were others set for the second half of 2019, as Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys initiated settlement talks.

It is still possible that some sort of settlement – individual case-specific, or larger – could happen before January, but the lawyers on both sides are preparing for a schedule that presents numerous logistical challenges. Each trial is expected to last several weeks, and not only are some lawyers involved in trying cases with overlapping trial schedules, but a small group of expert witnesses will be testifying in multiple cases taking place at the same time.

Three trials have taken place so far  in the sprawling mass tort litigation, which began in 2015 after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified a chemical called glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen with a particular association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Since the 1970s, glyphosate has been the active ingredient in Monsanto branded herbicides, and is currently considered the most widely used herbicide in the world.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say that the current line-up of cases represent even stronger claims for damages than the prior three trials.  “These are very strong cases,” said lawyer Aimee Wagstaff, who represents Gordon. In March, Wagstaff client Edwin Hardeman won an $80 million jury verdict from a San Francisco jury in his lawsuit against Monsanto.

For the Gordon case, Wagstaff has subpoenaed former Monsanto chairman Hugh Grant to testify live at the trial. Grant has thus far only testified through deposition and not had to testify in front of a jury; nor have other high-level Monsanto executives because the trials were held in California. But with the trial in St. Louis, plaintiffs’ lawyers are hoping to get some Monsanto scientists and executives on the stand for questioning. Grant’s attorneys have objected the making him appear in person, and both sides are awaiting a ruling on that matter.

In the most recent trial to take place, a jury in Oakland, California ordered Monsanto to pay more than $2 billion in damages to Alberta and Alva Pilliod, a married couple who both suffer from NHL they blame on exposure to Roundup.  The first trial ended in August 2018 when jurors in state court in San Francisco ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million  in damages to school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who has been diagnosed with a terminal type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  The judges in all three of those cases ruled that the awards were excessive and reduced the damage amounts, though the verdicts are currently under appeal.

More than 42,000 people  in the United States are now suing Monsanto claiming that Roundup and other Monsanto’s herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The lawsuits allege that the company was well aware of the dangers for many years but did nothing to warn consumers, working instead to manipulate the scientific record to protect company sales.

Tech, Medical and Farm Groups Ask Appeals Court to Overturn Verdict Against Monsanto

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Groups representing farm, medical and biotechnology interests have filed briefs with the California Court of Appeal, aligning with Monsanto in asking the court to overturn last summer’s jury verdict that found Monsanto’s glyphosate-herbicides cause cancer and determined that the company spent years covering up the risks.

The groups are urging the appeals court to either throw out the win a San Francisco jury gave to school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson in August of 2018 or to invalidate an order for Monsanto to pay punitive damages to Johnson. The Johnson trial was the first against Monsanto over claims that its glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Johnson is one of more than 18,000 plaintiffs making similar claims. The lawsuits allege that Monsanto was aware of scientific research showing an association between its herbicides and cancer but rather than warn consumers the company worked to suppress the research and manipulate scientific literature.

The jury in the Johnson case decided Monsanto should pay $289 million in damages, including $250 million in punitive damages. The trial judge in the case later slashed the punitive damage amount, reducing the total award to $78 million. Two other juries in subsequent trials over similar claims have also found in favor of plaintiffs and ordered large punitive damages against Monsanto.

Monsanto appealed the verdict and Johnson cross-appealed, seeking reinstatement of the full $289 million. Oral arguments are expected in this appeals court this fall with a potential decision from the appeals court before the end of the year.

One of the parties filing a brief supporting Monsanto’s position is Genentech Inc., a San Francisco biotech company with a history of doing research for cancer treatments. In its appeal to the court, Genentech argues that it has expertise as a “science company” and sees the Johnson verdict as a threat to scientific progress. “Courts must ensure the proper use of science in the courtroom in order for innovation to flourish in the marketplace…” the Genentech brief states.

Genentech announced earlier this year a fast-track review from the Food and Drug Administration for a drug treatment for people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

In backing Monsanto’s appeal, Genentech echoed complaints by Monsanto that Johnson’s lawyers did not properly present expert scientific testimony: “Genentech writes to highlight the importance of the proper screening of scientific expert testimony for companies with scientifically innovative products and consumers who rely on their innovations.”

The company also sided with Monsanto on the issue of punitive damages, arguing that companies should not be subject to punitive damages if their product has been reviewed by a regulatory agency such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and found to not pose a risk to human health.

“Allowing juries to award punitive damages for products that have been specifically examined and approved by regulatory agencies creates a large risk of confusion for life-science-based companies and may deter the progress of science,” the Genentech brief states. “If such punitive damages awards are allowed, companies face the risk of massive punitive damages awards unless they routinely second guess the safety decisions of regulators.”

On Tuesday the California Farm Bureau Federation filed its own brief supporting Monsanto. The farm bureau, which says it represents 36,000 members, said the case is of “vital concern” to farmers and ranchers who “depend on crop protection tools to grow food and fiber.”

Even though the Johnson verdict does not impact the regulation of glyphosate herbicides, the farm bureau argues in its brief that the industry fears restrictions on the chemical. The farm group additionally argued that the “trial court’s decision disregards federal law, as well as state law…” because it conflicts with the EPA’s finding that glyphosate is not likely to cause cancer.

Additionally, California associations representing doctors, dentists and hospitals weighed in on behalf of Monsanto arguing that the jury’s decision in the Johnson case was “subject to emotional manipulation” and not based on “scientific consensus.”

“The answer to the complex scientific question the jury was required to resolve in this case should have been based on accepted scientific evidence and rigorous scientific reasoning, not the jury’s policy choices. Even worse, there is reason to suspect the jury’s analysis was based on speculation and emotion,” the associations said in their brief.

Johnson’s attorney, Mike Miller, said he feels “real good” about the chances of victory in the appeals court and described the brief from the California Medical Association as the “same sophomoric brief they file against every victim of negligence.”

Missouri Trial Can Proceed

In separate action in Missouri , the state’s supreme court said on Tuesday that a trial set to start Oct. 15 in the city of St. Louis can proceed as planned on behalf of plaintiff Walter Winston. Other plaintiffs who had joined in Winston’s complaint against Monsanto are expected to be severed and/or have their cases delayed, according to a decision by the Missouri Supreme Court. Monsanto had asked the high court to prohibit the trial from taking place due to the fact that several plaintiffs do not reside in the area.

The Supreme Court instructed St. Louis City Judge Michael Mullen “take no further action” at this time in the cases of the 13 plaintiffs.

Monsanto was acquired by Bayer AG in June of 2018, and Bayer’s share prices fell sharply following the Johnson verdict and have remained depressed. Investors are pressing for a global settlement to end the litigation.