IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News

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

Spinning pesticide cancer report for Monsanto 

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

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

How IFIC tries to communicate its message to women.

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

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

Corporate funders  

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

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

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

Promotes GMOs to school children  

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

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

The inner workings of IFIC’s PR services 

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

Connects reporters to industry-funded scientists  

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

DuPont executive suggests stealth strategy to confront Consumer Reports

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

Other PR services IFIC provides to industry

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

originally posted May 31, 2018 and updated in February 2020

As settlement talks drag on, another Monsanto Roundup trial nears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated for weeks by litigation sources as a potential settlement total for the mass of cases that has dogged Bayer ever since it bought Monsanto in June of 2018 for $63 billion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Louis Roundup cancer trial “will not resume;” settlement news expected

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A Roundup cancer trial in St. Louis, Missouri, will not open on Wednesday as expected, a court spokesman said Monday, fueling fresh speculation that a global settlement of tens of thousands of lawsuits brought by cancer victims against the former Monsanto Co. may be near.

St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Hogan issued the notification Monday afternoon, reversing guidance provided to jurors and media last week that they should plan for opening statements in the case to begin Wednesday.  Broadcasters waiting to air the proceedings of the highly anticipated trial were told to pack up their equipment.

The St. Louis case, titled Wade v. Monsanto, involves four plaintiffs, including one woman whose husband died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Opening statements were initially expected Jan. 24, but were postponed  to allow for lawyers for Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG and lawyers for the plaintiffs to discuss settlement terms.  The court then said the trial would open on Feb. 5.  Now, it is off indefinitely.

The plaintiffs in the Wade case allege that they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma because of exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including the popular Roundup brand. More than 50,000 people are making similar allegations against the company, and are additionally claiming that Monsanto knew about the risks but failed to warn its customers.

Several trials have been pulled off the docket over the last several weeks as Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has drawn closer to a global settlement of the litigation. Bayer is looking to pay out roughly $10 billion in total to settle most, if not all, of the claims, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Last week, a California Roundup trial titled Caballero v. Monsanto was officially postponed after more than a week of jury selection activities and the seating of 16 jurors. Sources close to the litigation said settlement terms have now been agreed to in Caballero.

Sources also said the plaintiffs in a Roundup trial scheduled to start February 24th in federal court in San Francisco – Stevick v. Monsanto – are being told their case is unlikely to go forward.

Bayer investors are eager for the company to put an end to the litigation and head off more trials and the publicity that each brings.  Bayer’s lawyers have reportedly negotiated settlement payout for the clients of several large plaintiffs’ firms, but had been unable to reach agreement with two – The Miller Firm of Virginia and Weitz & Luxenberg of New York.

The Miller firm represents the plaintiffs in the Caballero, Wade and Stevick cases. The fact that those cases are now also being postponed or called off indicates Bayer and the Miller firm likely have come to an agreement, or are near one, observers said.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and Bayer as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal.

Reuters reported that Bayer is considering a settlement provision that would bar plaintiffs’ lawyers involved in the litigation from advertising for new clients.

Mediator Ken Feinberg declined to comment. Feinberg was appointed last May by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria to facilitate the settlement process. Last month, Feinberg said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a “national all-in” settlement of the U.S. lawsuits was near.

St. Louis Roundup cancer trial reset for Wednesday as California trial called off

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The drama continues in the closely watched battle between lawyers defending the former Monsanto Co. and those representing thousands of cancer victims who claim exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide gave them or a family member non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

On Friday, a California trial was officially postponed after more than a week of jury selection activities and the seating of 16 jurors. Instead of proceeding with opening statements, that trial has now been postponed indefinitely, with a case management conference set for March 31.

Meanwhile, the multi-plaintiff trial that was postponed just before opening statements last week in St. Louis has been rescheduled to open next Wednesday, sources close to the litigation said.

The St. Louis trial is particularly problematic for Monsanto because it involves four plaintiffs, including one woman whose husband died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and because the judge has ruled that the trial can be broadcast over the Courtroom View Network and through feeds to television and radio stations. Lawyers for Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG argued against broadcasting the trial, saying the publicity endangers its executives and witnesses.

Several trials have been pulled off the docket over the last several weeks as Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has drawn closer to a global settlement of what amounts to well more than 50,000 claims – some estimates are more than 100,000. Bayer is looking to pay out roughly $10 billion in total to settle the claims, according to sources close to the negotiations.

The lawsuits all allege that the Monsanto was well aware of scientific research demonstrating there were human health risks tied to its glyphosate-based herbicides but did nothing to warn consumers, working instead to manipulate the scientific record to protect company sales.

Bayer investors are eager for the company to put an end to the litigation and head off more trials and the publicity that each brings.  Bayer’s lawyers have reportedly negotiated settlement payout for the clients of several large firms, but have been unable to reach agreement with two large plaintiffs’ firms – The Miller Firm of Virginia and Weitz & Luxenberg of New York.  The Miller firm represents the plaintiffs in both the California case just pulled from the docket and in the St. Louis case just put back on.

Shares rose last week when the St. Louis trial was abruptly postponed as lead attorneys from the two plaintiffs’ firms – Mike Miller and Perry Weitz – left the courthouse just before opening statements were scheduled to begin in order to continue last-minute talks with Bayer attorneys.

The postponement has frustrated onlookers, including the crew from Courtroom View Network, which remained at the courthouse this week awaiting news of when the trial might resume. They were told Friday morning only that the trial would not resume on Monday. They learned later it would resume Wednesday instead.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and Bayer as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal.

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

Bayer settlement of Roundup cancer claims still up in air

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Jurors selected to hear a St. Louis case pitting cancer victims against Monsanto have been told the trial that was postponed indefinitely last week could resume as early as next Monday, a court spokesman said, an indication that efforts by Monsanto owner Bayer AG to end nationwide litigation over the safety of Roundup herbicides is still in flux.

In another sign that a deal has yet to be secured,  jury selection in a separate Roundup cancer trial – this one in California – was continuing this week. The trials in St. Louis and California involve plaintiffs who allege they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma because of exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides made by Monsanto, including the popular Roundup brand. Tens of thousands of plaintiffs are making similar claims in lawsuits filed around the United States.

Bayer bought Monsanto in June of 2018 just as the first trial in the mass tort litigation was getting underway.  Bayer’s share price was hammered after a unanimous jury found that Monsanto’s herbicides were the cause of the plaintiff’s cancer in that case and that Monsanto had hidden evidence of the cancer risk from the public.

Two additional trials results in similar jury findings and drew worldwide media attention to damning internal Monsanto documents that show the company engaged in a number of deceptive practices over many decades to defend and protect the profitability of its herbicides.

Bayer investors are eager for the company to put an end to the litigation and head off more trials and the publicity that each brings.  Shares rose last week when the St. Louis trial was abruptly postponed as attorneys for the plaintiffs huddled with attorneys for Bayer and indicated a global settlement of the litigation was near.

Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated for weeks by litigation sources as a potential settlement total for the mass of cases that has dogged Bayer ever since it bought Monsanto for $63 billion.

Bayer has already negotiated settlement terms with several of the law firms leading the litigation, but has been unable to reach an agreement with the plaintiffs’ firms of Weitz & Luxenberg and The Miller Firm. Together the two firms represent close to 20,000 plaintiffs, making their participation in a settlement a key element to a deal that will appease investors, said sources close to the litigation.

Sources said that the two sides were “very close” to a deal.

In separate, but related news, The Kellogg Company said this week that it was moving away from using grains that have been sprayed with glyphosate shortly before harvest as ingredients in its consumer snacks and cereals. The practice of using glyphosate as a desiccant was marketed by Monsanto for years as a practice that could help farmers dry out their crops before harvesting, but food product testing has demonstrated that the practice commonly leaves residues of the weed killer in finished foods like oatmeal.

Kellogg’s said it is “working with our suppliers to phase out using glyphosate as pre-harvest drying agent in our wheat and oat supply chain in our major markets, including the U.S., by the end of 2025.”

St. Louis Roundup trial postponed as large settlement appears near

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Update – Statement from Bayer: “The parties have reached an agreement to continue the Wade case in Missouri Circuit Court for St. Louis. The continuance is intended to provide room for the parties to continue the mediation process in good faith under the auspices of Ken Feinberg, and avoid the distractions that can arise from trials.  While Bayer is constructively engaged in the mediation process, there is no comprehensive agreement at this time. There also is no certainty or timetable for a comprehensive resolution.”

The highly anticipated opening of  what would have been a fourth Roundup cancer trial was postponed indefinitely on Friday amid settlement negotiations between Monsanto owner Bayer AG and attorneys representing thousands of people who claim their cancers were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides.

St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Hogan issued an order stating only “cause continued.” The order came after lead lawyers from the plaintiffs’ firms of New York-based Weitz & Luxenberg and The Miller Firm of Virginia left Hogan’s courtroom unexpectedly shortly before opening statements were due to begin at mid-morning Friday. Sources close to the legal teams initially said opening statements were pushed back until early afternoon to allow for time to see if the plaintiffs’ attorneys and lawyers for Bayer could finalize a resolution that would settle tens of thousands of lawsuits. But by early afternoon the proceedings were called off and it was widely speculated that a deal had been achieved.

Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated for weeks by litigation sources as a potential settlement total for the mass of cases that has dogged Bayer ever since it bought Monsanto in June of 2018 for $63 billion. The company’s share prices has been sharply depressed by repeated trial losses and large jury awards against the company in the three trials held to date.

Many more trials were to be held over the next few weeks and months, pressuring Bayer to settle the cases in time to assuage investors at its annual shareholders’ meeting in April.

Bayer officials have confirmed that more than 42,000 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Monsanto. But litigation sources say there are now more than 100,000 plaintiffs lined up with claims, though the current total number of actual filed claims is unclear.

The Weitz firm and the Miller firm combined represent the claims of roughly 20,000 plaintiffs, according to sources close to the firms. Mike Miller, who heads the Miller firm, is the lead attorney in the St. Louis trial that had been set to open Friday.

Miller has been a high-profile hold-out in the settlement talks with Bayer as several other lead plaintiffs’ attorneys have already signed on to a deal with the German pharmaceutical giant. Bayer needs to be able to achieve a resolution with a majority of the outstanding claims in order to appease disgruntled investors.

Mediator Ken Feinberg said last week that it was unclear if there could be a global settlement achieved without Miller. Miller was seeking “what he thinks is appropriate compensation,” Feinberg said. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria appointed Feinberg to act as a mediator between Bayer and the plaintiffs’ attorneys last May.

The jury for the St. Louis trial had already been selected and the four plaintiffs and their family members were present Friday morning, lining the front row of the small courtroom.

Monsanto’s lawyers made a bid earlier Friday to block broadcasting of the trial by local television and radio stations but Judge Hogan ruled against the company. Friday’s trial would have been the first to take place in the St. Louis area, where Monsanto was headquartered for more than 100 years.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal.

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

Dust-up over media ahead of Roundup cancer trial opening

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Lawyers representing the opposing sides of the upcoming Monsanto Roundup cancer trial due to open Friday in St. Louis were huddled away from the courthouse on Thursday amid speculation that settlement talks between the plaintiffs attorneys and Monsanto owner Bayer AG were at a critical juncture.

In the absence of the attorneys, confusion over media access to trial proceedings erupted at a hastily called hearing at the St. Louis City Circuit Court after a clerk for Judge Elizabeth Hogan erroneously informed reporters that if they planned to observe the trial proceedings via a live feed from Courtroom View Network (CVN) they would need individual approval from the court. Reporters were told they must make an application for a court hearing on whether or not they could watch the live feed the court has agreed to allow CVN to provide.

CVN then sent a notice out to journalists alerting them to the fact that they may be barred from simply watching the proceedings remotely: “We’ve been informed that the Court has seemingly imposed a requirement that any member of the media wishing to watch the Roundup video feed via CVN must obtain specific permission from the court to do so. Our attorney is trying to contact the judge ASAP to resolve this, and hopefully it will be resolved,” said an email sent from CVN to journalists.

Additionally, the hearing was to take up the matter of whether or not CVN can provide pool access to certain broadcast news stations. Radio and television outlet that want to share some of the proceedings with their audiences will need to make individual pleas to the judge.

The hearing was aborted because attorneys for Bayer, who have objected to broadcasting the trial, were not present. Now the pool access issue is to be taken up Friday morning before opening statements in the trial, Gross said.

The limitations on simply watching the trial announced by the judge’s clerk turned out to be inaccurate, according to court spokesman Thom Gross. There are sharp limits on those who will be watching, however. No “downloading, recording, rebroadcasting or reposting of any content, including screen shots” is allowed.

The debate over how much visibility the trial could receive has been a lingering concern for Bayer as it seeks to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits filed against its Monsanto unit alleging Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The plaintiffs additionally allege that Monsanto should have warned users but instead covered up the risks of its herbicides.

Evidence in three trials concluded to date has sparked global outrage over the corporate conduct of Monsanto, as plaintiffs’ attorneys have introduced internal Monsanto records in which company executives discussed ghostwriting scientific literature, secretly deploying third parties to discredit independent scientists, and benefiting from cozy relationships with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bayer has said that televising the St. Louis trial could endanger its employees, including former Monsanto executives.

Several of the plaintiffs’ law firms that spear-headed the nationwide litigation have agreed to cancel or postpone multiple trials, including two that involved young children with cancer, as part of the settlement talks with Bayer.

Bayer had made no secret of its desire to settle the mass tort litigation before any more trials take place. But one of the largest caseloads of plaintiffs is held by Virginia lawyer Mike Miller, and Miller has thus far refused to postpone the trials for his plaintiffs, apparently shrugging off settlement offers. Miller’s firm is providing lead counsel for the St. Louis trial and another in California that is still in the process of jury selection.

The Miller firm has several more trials coming up for its plaintiffs.

Stakes are high with two Roundup cancer trials starting amid settlement talks

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It’s been nearly five years since international cancer scientists classified a popular weed-killing chemical as probably carcinogenic, news that triggered an explosion of lawsuits brought by cancer patients who blame the former chemical maker Monsanto Co. for their suffering.

Tens of thousands of U.S. plaintiffs – some lawyers involved in the litigation say over 100,000 – claim Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and other glyphosate-based weed killers caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, while Monsanto spent years hiding the risks from consumers.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal.

Two new trials – one in California and one in Missouri – are now in the process of selecting juries. Opening statements are scheduled for Friday for the Missouri trial, which is taking place in St. Louis, Monsanto’s former home town. The judge in that case is allowing testimony to be televised and broadcast by Courtroom View Network.

Bayer has been desperate to avoid the spotlight of more trials and bring an end to the saga that has bludgeoned the pharmaceutical giant’s market capitalization, and exposed to the world Monsanto’s internal playbook for manipulating science, media and regulators.

It looks like that end could be coming soon.

“This effort to secure a comprehensive settlement of the Roundup cases has momentum,” mediator Ken Feinberg said in an interview. He said he is “cautiously optimistic” that a “national all-in” settlement of the U.S. lawsuits could happen within the next week or two. Feinberg was appointed last May by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria to facilitate the settlement process.

Neither side wants to wait and see how appeals filed over the trial verdicts play out, according to Feinberg, and Bayer hopes to have good news to report at its annual shareholders’ meeting in April.

“You’re rolling the dice with those appeals,” Feinberg said. “I don’t think anybody wants to wait until those appeals resolve.”

In a recent sign of settlement progress, a trial scheduled to start next week in California – Cotton v. Monsanto – has been postponed. A new trial date is now set for July.

And on Tuesday, Chhabria issued a stern order reminding both sides of the need for secrecy as the settlement talks proceed.

“At the request of the mediator, the parties are reminded that settlement discussions… are confidential and that the Court will not hesitate to enforce the confidentiality requirement with sanctions if necessary,” Chhabria wrote.

Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated by litigation sources, though Feinberg said he would “not confirm that number.” Some analysts say even $8 billion would be hard to justify to Bayer investors, and they expect a much lower settlement amount.

Several of the plaintiffs’ law firms that spear-headed the nationwide litigation have agreed to cancel or postpone multiple trials, including two that involved young children with cancer, as part of the settlement talks. But as they ease back, other firms racing have been racing to sign new plaintiffs, a factor that complicates settlement talks by potentially diluting individual payments.

Talks have also been complicated by the fact that one of the leading Roundup litigators – Virginia lawyer Mike Miller, a veteran in taking on large corporations in court – has so far refused to postpone trials, apparently shrugging off the settlement offers. Miller’s firm represents thousands of plaintiffs and is providing lead counsel for the two trials now getting underway.

The Miller Firm has been a critical part of the team that also involved the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman firm from Los Angeles that dug out internal Monsanto records through discovery, using the evidence to achieve the three trial victories. Those records fueled a global debate over Roundup safety, showing how Monsanto engineered scientific papers that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; used third parties to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with glyphosate herbicides; and collaborated with Environmental Protection Agency officials to protect Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

Some of Miller’s clients are cheering him on, hoping by holding out Miller can command a larger pay-out for the cancer claims. Others fear he could scuttle the chances for a large settlement, particularly if his firm loses one of the new trials.

Feinberg said it is unclear if a comprehensive resolution can be achieved without Miller.

“Mike Miller is a very, very good lawyer,” said Feinberg. He said Miller was seeking what he thinks is appropriate compensation.

Feinberg said there are many details to work out, including how a settlement would be apportioned to plaintiffs.

A worldwide following of journalists, consumers, scientists and investors are watching the developments closely, awaiting an outcome that could impact moves in many countries to ban or restrict glyphosate herbicide products.

But those most impacted are the countless cancer victims and their family members who believe corporate prioritization of profits over public health must be held to account.

Though some plaintiffs have successfully treated their cancers, others have died while waiting for a resolution, and others grow still sicker as each day passes.

Settlement money won’t heal anyone or bring back a loved one who has passed. But it would help some pay medical bills, or cover college costs for children who have lost a parent, or just allow for an easier life amid the pain that cancer brings.

It would be far better if we didn’t need mass lawsuits, teams of attorneys and years in court to seek payments for injuries attributed to dangerous or deceptively marketed products. It would be far better to have a rigorous regulatory system that protected public health and laws that punished corporate deception.

It would be far better if we lived in a country where justice was easier to obtain. Until then, we watch and we wait and we learn from cases like the Roundup litigation. And we hope for better.

Settlement in Monsanto Roundup cancer litigation complicated by hold-out attorney

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What will it take to get Mike Miller to settle? That is the pressing question as one of the lead lawyers in the nationwide Roundup cancer litigation has thus far refused to align with fellow litigators in agreeing to settle cases on behalf of thousands of cancer patients who claim their diseases were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s herbicide products.

Mike Miller, head of the Orange, Virginia-based law firm that bears his name, has been unwilling to accept the terms of settlement offers discussed in mediation talks between Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG and a team of plaintiffs’ attorneys. That recalcitrance is a critical sticking point that is interfering with a resolution, sources close to the litigation say.

Instead, Miller’s firm is launching two new trials this month, including one that started today in Contra Costa, California, and one that starts Tuesday in St. Louis, Missouri. It is possible that Miller could agree to a settlement at any point, interrupting trial proceedings, however. Miller also has a trial set for February in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. That case, brought by cancer patient Elaine Stevick, would be the second trial to be held in federal court.

Miller’s move to continue to try cases separates him from other leading Roundup plaintiffs’ firms, including the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman law firm of Los Angeles and the Denver, Colorado-based Andrus Wagstaff firm. Like the Miller firm, Baum Hedlund and Andrus Wagstaff represent several thousands plaintiffs.

Those firms have agreed to cancel or postpone multiple trials, including two that involved young children with cancer, in order to facilitate a settlement.

Some sources have pegged a potential settlement number at $8 billion-$10 billion, though some analysts have said that number would be hard to justify to Bayer investors, who are keeping a close eye on the developments.

Critics accuse Miller of acting in a way that could hurt the ability of thousands of plaintiffs to obtain payouts from Bayer, but supporters say he is championing his clients’ interests and refusing to accept terms he finds less than optimal. Miller is a veteran litigator who has a long history of taking on large companies, including pharmaceutical giants, over alleged product-related consumer injuries.

Mediator Ken Feinberg said it was unclear if there could be a global settlement achieved without Miller.

“Mike Miller has a view of what his cases are worth and is seeking what he thinks is appropriate compensation,” said Feinberg.  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria appointed Feinberg to act as a mediator between Bayer and the plaintiffs’ attorneys last May.

Monsanto has lost all three of the trials held so far. The Miller Firm handled two of those trials – bringing in Baum Hedlund lawyers to help with the case of  Dewayne “Lee” Johnson (after Mike Miller was severely injured in an accident just prior to trial) and also with 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. The other trial that has thus far taken place, on claims brought by Edwin Hardeman, was handled by the Andrus Wagstaff firm and attorney Jennifer Moore.

Miller’s bid to push new trials carries several risks, including the fact that Monsanto could prevail in one or more of the cases, which could provide leverage to Bayer in settlement talks. Conversely, though, if Miller were to win the trials that could offer fresh leverage for the plaintiffs to ask for more money.

The pressure to settle has been ratcheting higher for both sides.  Complicating factors include a ballooning of the number of plaintiffs’ signed by law firms around the United States amid the publicity of a possible settlement. Some media reports have pegged the total number of plaintiffs at 80,000 while some sources have said the number is well over 100,000. A large part of that number, however, reflects plaintiffs that are signed but have not filed actions in court, and some who have filed but do not have  trial dates. Any settlement now would represent a large percentage of plaintiffs, but not likely all, sources said.

All the cases allege that the cancers were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including the widely used Roundup brand. And all allege Monsanto knew about, and covered up, the risks.

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.

In the California trial that started today, Kathleen Caballero alleges that she developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after spraying Roundup from 1977 to 2018 as part of her work at a gardening and landscaping business, and in her operation of a farm.

In the trial set to start Tuesday in St. Louis, there are four plaintiffs- Christopher Wade, Glen Ashelman, Bryce Batiste and Ann Meeks.

A third trial is also set for this month in Riverside County Superior Court. That case was brought by Treesa Cotton, a woman who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015 that she blames on exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup.

Monsanto loses effort to head off St. Louis trial that starts next week

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Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG has failed in efforts to head off a Missouri trial over claims brought by cancer patients that Monsanto’s herbicide caused their diseases and Monsanto hid the risks.

In a ruling handed down Wednesday, St. Louis City Judge Elizabeth Byrne Hogan of Missouri’s 22nd Circuit ruled that the company wasn’t entitled to summary judgment in the case of Wade v. Monsanto, which is scheduled to go to trial Tuesday.

Hogan further frustrated Monsanto by ordering Thursday that the trial could be audio and video recorded and broadcast to the public. Lawyers for Monsanto had argued that the trial should not be broadcast because the publicity could endanger witnesses and former Monsanto executives.

Judge Hogan ruled that the trial would be open to audio and video recording and broadcast from its beginning on Jan 21 through the end of the trial, with several exceptions, including no coverage of jury selection.

The trial will be the first to take place in St. Louis, the former hometown for Monsanto before the company was acquired by Bayer in June 2018.

Monsanto lost the first three trials that have so far taken place. In those three trials, a total of four plaintiffs claimed exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them each to develop types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up evidence of the risks.

Representatives for both sides have been working with a court-appointed mediator since last May to try to resolve the litigation. As settlement talks have progressed, Bayer has successfully negotiated arrangements with certain plaintiffs’ law firms to postpone and/or cancel several trials, including one that had been set to get underway in the St. Louis area the last week of January. Among the cases pulled from the trial schedule are two cases involving cancer-stricken children and a case involving a woman who has suffered extensive debilitation from her bout with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

But while other firms pull back from trial plans, the Virginia-based Miller Firm, which is the lead counsel for the group of plaintiffs in the Wade case, has pushed forward. The Miller Firm already has two trial victories under its belt, having represented the first trial plaintiff, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, and the most recent trial plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod. The other trial that has thus far taken place, on claims brought by Edwin Hardeman, was handled by two separate firms.

In addition to the Wade case, the Miller firm has another trial due to start in California that will overlap with the Wade case if both proceed as planned.

Several of the lead law firms involved in the litigation stopped accepting new clients months ago, but other attorneys around the United States have continued to advertise, drawing in more potential plaintiffs. Some sources say the list of plaintiffs now totals more than 100,000 people. Last year Bayer reported to investors that the list of plaintiffs in the Roundup litigation totaled more than 42,000.

In ruling against Monsanto’s bid for summary judgment, Judge Hogan shot down an assortment of arguments asserted by the company’s lawyers, including Monsanto’s repeated effort to claim that because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concludes glyphosate is not carcinogenic, a federal legal  preemption exists.

“Defendant has not cited a single case that holds that the EPA’s regulatory scheme preempts claims such as Plaintiffs’,” Judge Hogan said in her ruling. “Every court presented with this issue has rejected it.”

With respect to the company’s argument that a jury should not be entitled to consider punitive damages, the judge said that would be a matter for consideration after seeing evidence presented at trial. She wrote: “Defendant argues that because Roundup has been consistently approved by the EPA and other regulatory agencies, its conduct cannot be considered willful, wanton or reckless as a matter of law. Plaintiffs respond that they will present evidence of Monsanto’s reckless disregard for the safety of others, and despicable and vile conduct, which has been held sufficient to submit the claim of punitive damages to the jury in other cases that have been tried. Defendant is not entitled to summary judgment on punitive damages.”