Bayer Internal Emails Says Seeks to “Regain Public Trust” Amid Monsanto Mess

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With legal and shareholder pressure mounting, Bayer AG on Thursday was preparing to launch an initiative to “regain public trust” after its acquisition last year of Monsanto Co. brought Bayer thousands of lawsuits filed by cancer victims and damning revelations of corporate deception surrounding years of health concerns about Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicides.

The plan calls for seeking a new alternative for glyphosate, the chemical herbicide introduced by Monsanto in 1974. Monsanto pushed the chemical to such pervasive use that glyphosate is considered the most widely used herbicide in history and residues of the weed killer are commonly found now in food, water, and human urine. Despite Monsanto denials of adverse human health and environmental impacts, scientific studies have tied Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide products to a range of disease and illness and have documented weed resistance problems, pollinator declines, soil degradation and water contamination issues, among other concerns.

According to an email dated June 13 authored by Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, Bayer plans to publish an advertisement on Friday that outlines “an initial set of commitments” pertaining to glyphosate, agriculture and global sustainability. The email was obtained and publicized by Friends of the Earth- Canada and could not immediately be authenticated by US Right to Know.

“Glyphosate will continue to play an important role in agriculture and in our portfolio. But nature is far from one-size-fits-all. With the global success of glyphosate came widespread use, weed resistance, and in some instances unintended misapplication.  Farmers deserve more choice. That’s why we will invest approximately 5 billion Euros in additional methods for combating weeds over the next decade. We are committed to equipping the world’s farmers with the best in agricultural technology and locally informed training on how to use it,” the email states.

The email states that Bayer will be working to “elevate our efforts in transparency…” and sustainability and engagement with shareholders.

“As the new leader in agriculture, we aim to set standards that not only align with the norms of our industries, but push all of us to be better,” the email states.

Bayer shares have dropped 44 percent since it acquired Monsanto last year, shortly before the first of three trial losses to cancer victims claiming exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. More than 13,000 people are suing with similar claims and so far juries have awarded more than $2 billion in damages, including punitive damages as punishment for what plaintiffs’ attorneys have characterized as malicious tactics aimed at suppressing scientific evidence that Monsanto’s herbicides can cause cancer.

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth Canada, said that she is skeptical about the sincerity of the effort. “The charm campaign is a waste of shareholder money,” she said. “This seems like more of their same tactics.”

Bayer’s Raymond Kerins,  senior vice president for communications and government, did not respond to a request for comment about the email, but has stated previously that the company’s goal is professional, transparent and honest engagement surrounding the Monsanto issues.

See link to Bayer email here. 

Monsanto, Bayer Struggle to Keep Up with Growing Roundup Cancer Litigation

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Turmoil both in and outside courtrooms appears to be growing for Monsanto, a unit of German owner Bayer AG, as the company works to meet overlapping deadlines for appeal actions in the three Roundup cancer trials Monsanto has lost so far at the same time that the company must prepare for new trials at the end of this summer.

The weight of the litigation burden was laid out by a Monsanto/Bayer attorney in a recent California Court of Appeal filing seeking more time to file a brief in Monsanto’s appeal of the first case it lost last summer.

That plaintiff in that case, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, was awarded $289 million by a San Francisco jury who determined that Johnson’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma was caused by his exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides. As part of the $289 million, the jury ordered $250 million in punitive damages after Johnson’s attorneys presented evidence that Monsanto suppressed the evidence of the risks of its herbicides.

The trial judge lowered the damage award to $78 million, and Johnson is cross-appealing to reinstate the full verdict.

Monsanto’s appeal argues, among other things, that if the court refuses to reverse the judgment there should be no punitive damage award at all, even if Johnson is awarded a small amount for compensatory damages.

In the recent filing, Bryan Cave attorney K. Lee Marshall told the court he needs an extension of time to prepare the next brief that is due in the Johnson appeal because of the various deadlines in the multiple cases Monsanto is defending against. He cited post-trial motion deadlines in Pilliod v. Monsanto, in which a jury ordered Monsanto pay more than $2 billion in damages, and deadlines in Hardeman v. Monsanto, in which a jury ordered the company to pay roughly $80 million in damages. Monsanto is seeking to overturn both those verdicts as well.

Last week, Monsanto filed notice in federal court that it – along with insurer Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. – had posted a $100 million bond as it plans to appeal the Hardeman verdict. The company has a July 2 hearing on its request for the trial judge to set aside the verdict and order a new trial.

“In light of the imminent post-trial motion briefing deadlines in Hardeman and Pilliod, I am, and will be, devoting a significant amount of time over the next several weeks to the post-trial motions that challenge the enormous verdicts in those cases. These time-sensitive commitments will substantially impair my ability to devote time to prepare… in this appeal,” Marshall told the court.

As well, he wrote, the Johnson case is “unusually complex and presents numerous complicated issues.” In-house counsel at Bayer wants to review, comment on and edit the reply brief before it is filed, he added.

The Johnson appeal is being handled on an expedited basis due to Johnson’s declining health and terminal cancer diagnosis. Johnson’s attorneys have said they expect oral arguments to be set for the appeals by September or October, with a final ruling expected within 90 days following oral arguments, possibly by Thanksgiving.

If Monsanto loses its bid for a new trial in the Hardeman case the company is expected to file an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a process that would likely drag into next spring, attorneys involved in the litigation said.

Meanwhile, the next trial is set to get underway Aug. 19 in St. Louis, the longtime hometown for Monsanto before it was acquired by Bayer in June 2018. The case involves plaintiff Sharlean Gordon, a cancer-stricken woman in her 50s.  The case was filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs and Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

More than 13,000 plaintiffs have filed suit against Monsanto in the United States alleging they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killers, such as Roundup.

As the litigation proceeds, Bayer investors grow more restless and many are pushing Bayer to seriously consider a global settlement, sources say. Various analysts put a potential settlement number between $2 billion to $3 billion on the low side, up to $10 billion or slightly more as the high end of a range.

Bayer’s shares have fallen 44 percent since the Johnson verdict was handed down last August.

An internal Bayer email dated June 13 revealed that the company is launching a new marketing effort aimed at distancing itself from Monsanto’s questionable conduct.

The email sent from Bayer CEO Werner Baumann stated: “We are currently facing questions of public trust. This challenge is also an opportunity for us to demonstrate what we stand for. That’s why we are
raising the bar as we are setting off on a journey to elevate our efforts in transparency,
sustainability and how we engage with our stakeholders. As the new leader in agriculture, we
aim to set standards that not only align with the norms of our industries, but push all of us to be
better.”

“Transparency is our foundation. We will evolve our engagement policies that ground all of our
interactions with scientists, journalists, regulators and the political sphere in transparency,
integrity and respect,” the internal Bayer email states.

Up Next – Trial In Monsanto’s Hometown Set for August After $2 Billion Roundup Cancer Verdict

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After three stunning courtroom losses in California, the legal battle over the safety of Monsanto’s top-selling Roundup herbicide is headed for the company’s hometown, where corporate officials can be forced to appear on the witness stand, and legal precedence shows a history of anti-corporate judgments.

Sharlean Gordon, an cancer-stricken woman in her 50s, is the next plaintiff currently set for trial.  Gordon v. Monsanto starts Aug. 19 in St. Louis County Circuit Court, located just a few miles from the St. Louis, Missouri-area campus that was the company’s longtime world headquarters until Bayer bought Monsanto last June. The case was filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs and Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

According to the complaint, Gordon purchased and used Roundup for at least 15 continuous years through approximately 2017 and was diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2006. Gordon has gone through two stem cell transplants and spent a year in a nursing home at one point in her treatment. She is so debilitated that it is difficult for her to be mobile.

Her case, like that of the thousands of others filed around the United States, alleges use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused her to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“She’s been through hell,” said St. Louis attorney Eric Holland, one of the legal team members representing Gordon.  “She’s horribly injured. The human toll here is tremendous. I think Sharlean is really going to put a face on what Monsanto’s done to people.”

Gordon said the hardest part about preparing for trial is determining what evidence to present to the jury within the three-week time span that the judge has set for the trial.

“This evidence against them, their conduct, is the most outrageous I’ve seen in my 30 years of doing this,” Holland said.  “The things that have gone on here, I want St. Louis juries to hear this stuff.”

That Gordon trial will be followed by a September 9 trial also in St. Louis County in a case brought by plaintiffs Maurice Cohen and Burrell Lamb.

Monsanto’s deep roots in the community, including a large employment base and generous charitable donations throughout the area, could favor its chances with local jurors. But on the flip side, St. Louis is regarded in legal circles as one the most favorable places for plaintiffs to bring lawsuits against corporations and there is a long history of large verdicts against major companies. St. Louis City Court is generally considered the most favorable but St. Louis County is also desired by plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The approach of the August and September trials comes on the heels of a stunning $2 billion verdict issued against Monsanto May 13.  In that case, a jury in Oakland, California awarded married couple Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who both suffer from cancer, $55 million in compensatory damages and $1 billion each in punitive damages. The jury found that Monsanto has spent years covering up evidence that its herbicide causes cancer.

That verdict came only a little more than a month after a San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay $80 million in damages to Edwin Hardeman, who also developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup.  And last summer, a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson who received a terminal cancer diagnosis after using Monsanto herbicides in his job.

Aimee Wagstaff, who was co-lead counsel for Hardeman, is set to try the Gordon case in St. Louis with Holland. Wagstaff said she plans to subpoena several Monsanto scientists to appear on the witness stand to answer questions directly in front of a jury. She and the other attorneys trying the California cases were not able to force Monsanto employees to testify live because of the distance.

MEDIATION MEETING MAY 22

The trial losses have left Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG under siege. Angry investors have pushed share prices to the lowest levels in roughly seven years,  erasing more than 40 percent of Bayer’s market value. And some investors are calling for Bayer CEO Werner Baumann to be ousted for championing the Monsanto acquisition, which closed in June of last year just as the first trial was getting underway.

Bayer maintains that there is no valid evidence of cancer causation associated with Monsanto’s herbicides, and says it believes it will win on appeal.  But U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has ordered Bayer to begin mediation talks aimed at potentially settling the sprawling mass of lawsuits that includes roughly 13,400 plaintiffs in the United States alone. All the plaintiffs are cancer victims or their family members and all allege Monsanto engaged in a range of deceptive tactics to hide the risks of its herbicides, including manipulating the scientific record with ghostwritten studies, colluding with regulators, and using outside individuals and organizations to promote the safety of its products while making sure they falsely appeared to be acting independently of the company.

A May 22 hearing is being held in part to define details of the mediation process. Bayer has indicated that it will comply with the order, but may not yet be ready to consider settling the litigation despite the courtroom losses.

Meanwhile, the litigation that originated in the United States has crossed the border into Canada where a Saskatchewan farmer is leading a class action lawsuit against Bayer and Monsanto making allegations that mirror those in the U.S. lawsuits.

“THE QUEEN OF ROUNDUP”

Elaine Stevick of Petaluma, California was supposed to be the next in line to take on Monsanto at trial. But in his order of mediation, Judge Chhabria also vacated her May 20 trial date. A new trial date is to be discussed at the hearing on Wednesday.

Stevick and her husband Christopher Stevick sued Monsanto in April of 2016 and said in an interview that they are eager to get their chance to confront the company over the devastating damage they say Elaine’s use of Roundup has done to her health. She was diagnosed in December 2014 at the age of 63 with multiple brain tumors due to a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called central nervous system lymphoma (CNSL).  Alberta Pilliod, who just won the most recent trial, also had a CNSL brain tumor.

The couple purchased an old Victorian home and overgrown property in 1990 and while Christopher worked on renovating the interior of the house, Elaine’s job was to spray weed killer over the weeds and wild onions that the couple said took over a good portion of the property. She sprayed multiple times a year until she was diagnosed with cancer. She never wore gloves or other protective clothing because believed it to be as safe as advertised, she said.

Stevick is currently in remission but nearly died at one point in her treatment, Christopher Stevick said.

“I called her the ‘queen of Roundup’ because she was always walking around spraying the stuff,” he said.

The couple attended parts of both the Pilliod and Hardeman trials, and said they are grateful the truth about Monsanto’s actions to hide the risks are coming into the public spotlight. And they want to see Bayer and Monsanto start warning users about the cancer risks of Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides.

“We want the companies to take responsibility for warning people -even if there is a chance that something would be harmful or hazardous for them, people should be warned,” Elaine Stevick said.

(Published first in Environmental Health News)

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University of Florida Sued for Failure to Release Public Records on Agrichemical Industry

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News Release
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, July 11, 2017
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (415) 944-7350

Food industry watchdog group U.S. Right to Know filed a lawsuit today to compel the University of Florida to comply with public records requests about the university’s relationship with agrichemical companies that produce genetically engineered seeds and pesticides.

“We are conducting an investigation of the food and agrichemical industries, their front groups and public relations operatives, their ties to universities, and the health risks of their products, said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know. “The public has a right to know if and when taxpayer-funded universities and academics are collaborating with corporations to promote their products and viewpoints.”

On September 5, 2015, the New York Times published a front-page article, based on USRTK public records requests, about agrichemical industry ties to public university professors, including one from the University of Florida.

On September 3, 2015, USRTK requested emails sent from and received by the University of Florida via the pro-agrichemical industry listserver “AgBioChatter.” On March 7, 2016, the University of Florida provided 24 pages of emails, and on June 17, 2016 provided an additional 57 pages, but denied much of the request.  USRTK updated and renewed the public records request on July 16, 2017.

In addition, on October 27, 2015, USRTK requested emails about the agrichemical industry sent by Jack M. Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the University of Florida, to employees of the University of Florida Foundation.  On December 15, 2015, the University of Florida provided 42 pages of documents, but denied release of other responsive documents.

“We seek these records to learn more about the University of Florida’s collaboration with the agrichemical industry,” Ruskin said.

Around the time that the New York Times published the University of Florida Foundation’s food and agrichemical industry major donors, the foundation removed these disclosures from its website.

The USRTK investigation of the food and agrichemical industries has been covered in many news outlets, including the New York TimesBoston Globe, BMJ, the GuardianLe MondeSTATCBC and Mother Jones.

USRTK’s complaint for writ of mandamus against the University of Florida Board of Trustees is available at: https://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Petition-For-Writ-Of-Mandamus.pdf.  The complaint was filed in the Circuit Court of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, Alachua County, Florida.  The case is US Right to Know v. The University of Florida Board of Trustees.

More information about USRTK’s transparency litigation is at: https://usrtk.org/our-litigation/.

U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy. We promote the free market principle of transparency – in the marketplace and in politics – as crucial to building a better, healthier food system.

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