“Go Get ‘Em” – Jury Deliberations Starting in Roundup Cancer Trial

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After dramatic day-long closing arguments in which the plaintiffs’ attorney suggested $1 billion in punitive damages would be appropriate, jury deliberations were getting underway on Thursday in the trial pitting a married couple with cancer against Monsanto.

Alva and Alberta Pilliod, each diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, were in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California, on Wednesday as attorney Brent Wisner implored jurors to agree with allegations that the development of the Pilliods’ debilitating illnesses was due to their many years of use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides.

Monsanto strongly denies its products are carcinogenic. But Pilliod attorney Brent Wisner told jurors there was ample evidence of cancer concerns and rather than warn customers of the risks, the company engaged in 45 years of deceptive tactics that manipulated the scientific record about the dangers of its products.

He said jurors should consider ordering at least $892 million in punitive damages as that represented one year of profits for Monsanto, which last year was acquired by Bayer AG. He said a better figure might be $1 billion in order to send a message to Bayer and Monsanto. Additionally, he asked for approximately $37 million in compensatory damages for Alberta Pilliod and $18 million for Alva Pilliod.

“Hold them accountable,” Wisner told jurors in a three-hour closing argument. During his presentation to jurors, Wisner reminded them of evidence introduced over the lengthy trial.  He walked them through several scientific studies he said showed links to cancer, showed them excerpts of internal Monsanto emails that talked about ghostwriting scientific papers and covertly paying front groups such as the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) to publicly promote the safety of its herbicides. He reminded jurors of documents showing cozy ties to certain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials who back the safety of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, and documents showing Monsanto strategies to discredit international cancer scientists who classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

Wisner said Monsanto buried studies that found harm with its products and promoted ghostwritten studies that promoted safety, engaging in conduct that was “reprehensible.”

“That ladies and gentlemen is how you manipulate science,” he said.

In contrast, Monsanto attorney Tarek Ismail told jurors in his closing argument that both Pilliods had multiple health problems and weakened immune systems and their cancers were not connected by any legitimate evidence to their use of Roundup.

“After all this time that we’ve been here in this trial, the plaintiffs haven’t showed you a single document or medical record or test specifically linking either plaintiff’s NHL to Roundup,” said Ismail.  “And the thing is, you don’t have to agree with us on all of these or even some, because, if you follow any of these paths, you get to the same answer, that the plaintiffs have not met their burden of proof.”

Ismail told jurors that Wisner was manipulating their emotions, promoting “fear over science” and “emotion over evidence.” Regulatory agencies around the world back the safety of glyphosate and Monsanto herbicides, and aside from some poor choices of language in internal emails, there is no evidence of bad conduct by Monsanto. He said that Wisner was engaging in an “absurd” “charade” and “blatantly trying to manipulate” jurors when he put on gloves during trial testimony to handle a Roundup bottle filled not with the herbicide but with water.

“You folks have worked too hard, been here too long to allow someone to insult your intelligence like that. And I hope you reject it for what it was,” Ismail said.

Sparks flew when it was Wisner’s turn for rebuttal, as he loudly and angrily held up multiple notes he said were handed to him by colleagues pointing out falsehoods in various statements made by Ismail.

“Get out of here!” Wisner yelled, prompting Judge Winifred Smith to admonish him to calm down. He ended his rebuttal again imploring jurors to find for the Pilliods and order damages in such a high amount as to send a message to Monsanto and Bayer.

His final words to jurors – “Go get ’em.”

See transcript of closing arguments here. 

The Pilliod case is the third Roundup cancer case to go to trial. Last summer a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289  million in damages to cancer victim Dewayne “Lee” Johnson. The judge in the case later lowered the amount to $78 million. A second trial, also held in San Francisco in a separate case, resulted in an $80.2 million verdict for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman.

There are more than 13,000 other plaintiffs also alleging Monsanto’s herbicides cause cancer and the company has hidden the risks. Bayer shares have been rocked by the verdicts and investors are nervously awaiting the outcome of this trial. The company has lost more than $30 billion in shareholder value after buying Monsanto last summer.

FDA Resumes Testing Foods For Weed Killer, Safety Questions Grow

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has resumed its first-ever endeavor to evaluate how much of a controversial chemical is making its way into the U.S. food supply. And the tests can’t come soon enough as safety concerns about the herbicide known as glyphosate grow.

The FDA, the nation’s chief food safety regulator, launched what it calls a “special assignment” last year to analyze certain foods for glyphosate residues after the agency was criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office for failing to include glyphosate in annual testing programs that look for many less-used pesticides in foods. But the agency scuttled the testing after only a few months amid disagreement and difficulties with establishing a standard methodology to use across the agency’s multiple U.S. laboratories, according to FDA sources.

Many observers suspected the suspension might be politically motivated because it came after one FDA chemist found glyphosate in several samples of U.S. honey and oatmeal products, including baby food. As well, private organizations have detected glyphosate residues in an array of food products. In April the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported that it found glyphosate residues – mostly in small amounts – in roughly 30 percent of foods it tested. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had intended to start testing some food samples for glyphosate in April of this year, agency documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests show. But the agency decided to abandon that plan.

Sources inside the FDA said agency glyphosate testing resumed in early June and FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney confirmed the news this week. Alongside the testing for glyphosate, the FDA laboratories have also said they were analyzing foods for 2,4-D and other “acid herbicides.” Chemical company players have started combining 2,4-D and the herbicide dicamba with glyphosate in new weed-killing products and use is expected to rise, so tracking residues in food is important. But the FDA has provided few details about any of the testing, and what is known has mostly been learned through internal documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicides. It has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which said that years of research on the chemical shows evidence of genotoxicity and oxidative stress from glyphosate, including findings of DNA damage in the peripheral blood of exposed humans. But U.S. and other many other regulatory bodies have said there is not sufficient evidence to support that view.

There was also news on Wednesday that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA), Office of Inspector General is initiating a probe into possible collusion between Monsanto and a former top EPA official who provided favorable assessments of the safety of glyphosate while at the EPA. That official, Jesudoss Rowland, was deputy division director within the health effects division of the Office of Pesticide Programs. Rowland managed the work of scientists who assessed human health effects of exposures to pesticides and he chaired the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) that contradicted the IARC finding and determined glyphosate was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” Rowland left the EPA in 2016 shortly after a copy of the CARC report was leaked and cited by Monsanto as evidence that the IARC classification was flawed.

Rowland had a long history of taking a favorable position on Monsanto’s glyphosate. In 1998, Rowland and the hazard identification assessment review committee ― where he served as executive secretary at the time ― recommended that the EPA drop the extra safety margin designed to protect children in the agency’s re-evaluation of what constituted a safe dose of glyphosate. Rowland and another EPA scientist authored the report making the recommendation. The decision to drop the extra safety margin called for in the Food Quality Protection Act was important in helping Monsanto gain approval for expanded tolerance levels for glyphosate residues in food. Pesticide residues are legal in food if they fall under the so-called “maximum residue levels” or MRLs set by the EPA.

As the FDA tests for glyphosate residues in food the agency specifically will be looking to see if residues they do find fall within those MRLs. Over the years, the legal limits for glyphosate in food have risen multiple times as glyphosate use has risen.

Glyphosate exposures in food and in the environment need much more scrutiny, according to a group of 20 doctors and scientists who put their concerns in writing last month: “Should the public be assured of the safety of glyphosate? We think not…” the group wrote. “We urge the public not to be duped by chemical company apologists who attempt to obscure independent scientific findings that threaten a highly profitable product.”

(First published in Huffington Post)