Former Monsanto CEO Ordered to Testify at Roundup Cancer Trial

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Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company’s Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers.

Grant, who led St. Louis-based Monsanto from 2003 until the company was sold to Bayer AG of Germany in June of 2018, and spent a total of 37 years working for Monsanto, was subpoenaed by lawyers for plaintiff Sharlean Gordon, to testify at a trial slated to begin Jan. 27 in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

The Gordon trial was originally scheduled for August of this year but was delayed as part of an effort to undertake settlement talks between Bayer and lawyers for tens of thousands of plaintiffs who are suing Monsanto with claims similar to Gordon’s.

Two other trials set for January, both in courts in California and both involving children diagnosed with cancer, were recently postponed due to continued settlement talks.

Bayer estimates that there are currently more than 42,000 plaintiffs alleging that exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides made by Monsanto caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Grant did not have to testify live at the three Roundup cancer trials that have taken place so far because they were all held in California. But because Grant resides in St. Louis County, plaintiffs’ attorneys saw an opportunity to get him on the stand in person.

Attorneys for Grant have been fighting the subpoena, arguing that he is not a scientist or regulatory expert and he has already provided information in deposition testimony. Grant has also argued that he should not have to testify because he plans to be out of the country starting February 9.

But in a decision handed down Dec. 5, a special master appointed to the case sided with Gordon’s attorneys and ruled that Grant was not entitled to an order quashing the subpoena for trial testimony.

“Mr. Grant appeared for interviews on public radio representing that Roundup is not a carcinogen; in earnings calls for investors Mr. Grant personally responded that the classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen was ‘junk science;’ in 2016 Mr. Grant personally lobbied the EPA Administrator and the Agricultural Committee Chair of the topic of glyphosate,” the special master’s order states.

“Although Mr. Grant does not have scientific knowledge that doubtless will be a significant component to this lawsuit, he was CEO of Monsanto for 15 years and took part in presentations, discussions, interviews and other appearances for Monsanto as CEO in which the topics of Roundup and glyphosate were explained, discussed and defended,” Special Master Thomas Prebil said in his decision.

Gordon developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup herbicides for 25 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois, and has suffered extensive debilitation due to her disease. Gordon’s stepfather, who also used Roundup at the family home where Gordon lived into adulthood, died of cancer.  The case  is actually derived from a larger case filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs. Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

In the three previous trials, unanimous juries have found that exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides does cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company did cover up the risks and fail to warn consumers. The three juries awarded a total of four plaintiffs more than $2 billion in damages, but the three trial judges have reduced the awards significantly in each case.

All are being appealed and none of the winning plaintiffs have yet received any of the monetary awards the juries ordered.

JOHNSON APPEAL DELAYED

The first plaintiff to win against Monsanto is a California school groundskeeper from California. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was awarded $289 million by a jury in August 2018. The trial judge later lowered the damages to $78 million. Monsanto appealed seeking to overturn the jury decision and Johnson cross-appealed seeking to reinstate the full award of $289 million.

The California Court of Appeal 1st Appellate District said it would act swiftly in ruling on the consolidated appeals and lawyers for both sides initially hoped to have a ruling by the end of this year. But the case has been delayed for several weeks as both sides awaited a date for oral arguments. On Dec. 3, Monsanto’s attorneys asked the court not to schedule oral arguments in January or February, as several new Roundup trials are set for those months.  Johnson’s attorneys opposed that request for further delay.

On Friday, the court issued an order stating that while it agreed with Johnson about the need to
“schedule oral argument as soon as practicable,” it was unlikely oral arguments could be held until March of April “given the number and length of all the briefs to be considered, the outstanding motions that the court must rule on when considering the merits of the appeal,” and other factors.

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.

See the Email Trail Showing Influence Peddling by Press Association to Bayer

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Journalists around the globe have reacted with outrage to revelations published in The Guardian  this week that show Thanos Dimadis, the former executive director of the Foreign Press Foundation, offered an unusual arrangement to Bayer AG that called for using the press organization, which is dedicated to protecting a free press, in ways that would also protect and benefit Bayer’s business interests. In exchange for the influence and access into the press association, Bayer agreed to provide generous funding, the emails show, including extra money for Dimadis personally.

Dimadis has recently become president of a new organization called the Association of Foreign Correspondents in the USA (AFC-USA), which is primarily funded by Bayer, the German pharmaceutical and chemical giant that last year bought Monsanto Co.

Monsanto was mired in litigation over allegations its Roundup herbicide causes cancer when Bayer bought the company in June 2018. Three trial losses since the acquisition have worried Bayer investors and left Bayer to defend against Monsanto’s documented history of trying to manipulate media, scientists and regulators to benefit its own interests.

Bayer officials assert Bayer is dedicated to truth and transparency and supports a free press. The company denies it sought or received any undue influence within the Foreign Press Association or the new Association of Foreign Correspondents.

Here is a list of several of the emails:

Details of arrangement with Bayer

List of journalists for Bayer to select for engagement

Dimadis asks Bayer’s direction for press association “to strategize properly”

Dimadis asks for extra money for himself from Bayer

Bayer appreciates Dimadis’ actions and agrees to add money to the budget for Dimadis

See the full story.

Cancer Taking Toll As New Roundup Trials Near

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For the last five years, Chris Stevick has helped his wife Elaine in her battle against a vicious type of cancer that the couple believes was caused by Elaine’s repeated use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide around a California property the couple owned. Now the roles are reversed as Elaine must help Chris face his own cancer.

Chris Stevick, who often mixed Roundup for his wife and tested the sprayer used to dispense the weed killer, was diagnosed last month with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Unlike Elaine’s aggressive type of NHL known as central nervous system lymphoma, Chris’s cancer is a type that tends to grow slowly. He was diagnosed after a physical examination showed abnormalities in his blood and prompted further tests.

The diagnosis has prompted a scramble among lawyers involved in the sprawling Roundup products liability litigation given that the Stevick’s lawsuit against Monsanto is set as the next federal case to go to trial.

With the trial date of Feb. 24, 2020 looming, Elaine Stevick’s lawyers asked Monsanto’s attorneys if the company would agree that Chris Stevick’s cancer claims could be joined with his wife’s for the February trial in San Francisco. The attorneys argue that at the very least Chris Stevick’s diagnosis is admissible evidence at his wife’s trial as additional proof of their claim that Roundup exposure can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Monsanto’s attorneys oppose the joining of the claims and say that Elaine Stevick’s trial should only proceed in February if there is no mention made of her husband’s cancer. Alternatively, Monsanto requests that the February trial be delayed and the company be given time to do discovery into Chris Stevick’s diagnosis.

The issue is to be discussed in a case management conference Thursday, which the Stevicks plan to attend. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said ahead of the hearing that he is “tentatively of the view” that a continuance of the trial will be necessary if the couple wants to try their claims together. He also said that if Elaine Stevick proceeds on her exposure claims alone, evidence of her husband’s cancer diagnosis “will likely be inadmissible….”

If the judge confirms that joining the claims would indeed require a continuance, Elaine Stevick will choose to proceed on her own in February, said attorney Mike Miller.

Earlier this year another husband and wife suffering from cancer, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, were awarded more than $2 billion in damages in their lawsuit against Monsanto, though the judge in the case lowered the damage award to $87 million. The Pilliod trial was the third Roundup products liability trial to take place and the third in which juries found that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company has hidden the risks from consumers. Alberta Pilliod’s cancer has recently returned and it is not clear she will survive much longer, according to her attorneys.

None of the people so far awarded money in the three trials have received any payout from Monsanto as its owner Bayer AG appeals the verdicts.

There are currently more than 42,000 people suing Monsanto in the United States, alleging that Monsanto’s herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The lawsuits additionally allege that the company was well aware of the dangers but did nothing to warn consumers, working instead to manipulate the scientific record.

The Stevick trial is only one of at least six in five different venues slated for January and February, with each expected to last several weeks. Many lawyers are involved in more than one of the cases, and all have overlapping expert witnesses, setting up organizational and resource challenges for both sides. Multiple trials that had been set for this fall were delayed until next year.

In the meantime, both sides of the litigation are keeping an eye on the California Appellate Court, where lawyers for plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson and lawyers for Monsanto are awaiting a date for oral arguments in their cross appeals. Monsanto is seeking to overturn the unanimous jury decision handed down against the company in August 2018. The trial judge in that case lowered the jury award from $289 million to $78 million and Johnson is appealing for the reinstatement of the full $289 million.

Johnson was the first to go to trial against Monsanto and his victory sent share prices in Bayer plummeting just two months after Bayer closed the purchase of Monsanto in June 2018. Johnson was  granted “trial preference” due to predictions by his doctors that he did not have long to live. Johnson has outlived those predictions, though his health continues to decline.

As the litigation drags on, several plaintiffs have died or are nearing death, or have suffered such extreme health problems that their ability to undergo the rigors of depositions and trials has become limited.

In some cases, family members are being substituted as plaintiffs for deceased loved ones. In legal parlance, the notices to the courts are titled “Suggestion of Death.”

As Roundup cancer lawsuits surge, Monsanto fights to keep PR work secret

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As Monsanto continues to battle legal claims over alleged dangers of its widely used Roundup herbicides, the company is trying to block orders to turn over internal records about its work with public relations and strategic consulting contractors.

In a series of filings in St. Louis Circuit Court, Monsanto argues that it should not have to comply with discovery requests involving certain dealings between it and the global public relations firm FleishmanHillard, despite the fact that a special master has found Monsanto should hand those documents over. Monsanto is asserting that its communications with FleishmanHillard should be considered “privileged,” similar to attorney-client communications, and that Monsanto should not have to produce them as part of discovery to the lawyers representing the cancer patients suing Monsanto.

FleishmanHillard became the agency of record for Monsanto’s “corporate reputation work” in 2013, and its employees became deeply involved with the company, working “at Monsanto’s offices nearly every day” and gaining “access to online repositories of non-public confidential information,”  the company said. “The fact that some of these communications involve the creation of public messaging does not strip them of privilege,” Monsanto said in its court filing.

FleishmanHillard worked on two projects for Monsanto in Europe regarding re-registration of
glyphosate and worked with Monsanto lawyers on a “specific project for jury research.” The nature of the work done by the public relations firm “required privileged communications” with Monsanto’s legal counsel, the company said.

Earlier this year Monsanto owner Bayer AG said it was ending Monsanto’s relationship with FleishmanHillard after news broke that the public relations firm engaged in a Europe-wide data collection scheme for Monsanto, targeting journalists, politicians and other stakeholders to try to influence pesticide policy.

Monsanto has taken a similar position with respect to communications involving its work with corporate image management company FTI Consulting, which Monsanto hired in June 2016. “The absence of an attorney on a privileged document also does not automatically render that document susceptible to a privilege challenge,” Monsanto said in its filing.

Earlier this year, an FTI employee was caught impersonating a journalist at one of the Roundup cancer trials, trying to suggest story lines for other reporters to pursue that favored Monsanto.

The company also wants to avoid handing over documents involving its relationship with Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, which has been marketing and selling Monsanto’s Roundup lawn and garden products since 1998.

More than 40,000 cancer victims or their family members are now suing Monsanto blaming exposure to the company’s line of Roundup herbicides for their diseases, according to Bayer. The lawsuits allege that exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that though Monsanto knew about the cancer risks, it intentionally did not warn consumers.

Bayer held a conference call with investors Wednesday to discuss its third quarter results and to update shareholders on the Roundup litigation.  Striking a reassuring tone, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said that while investors might be surprised at the high number of lawsuits, it is “actually not that surprising.” He said plaintiffs’ attorneys in the United States have been spending tens of millions of dollars advertising for clients.

“This increase in the number of lawsuits does not change our conviction of the safety profile of glyphosate and is by no means a reflection of the merits of this litigation,” Baumann said. Appeals are underway after the company lost the first three trials, and the company is “constructively” engaging in mediation, according to Baumann. Bayer will only agree to a settlement that is “financially reasonable” and will bring “reasonable closure to the overall litigation,” he said.

Though the company refers to it as “glyphosate” litigation, the plaintiffs allege that their cancers were not caused by exposure to glyphosate alone, but by exposure to glyphosate-based formulated products made by Monsanto.

Many scientific studies have shown that the formulations are much more toxic than glyphosate by itself. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not required long-term safety studies on Roundup formulations throughout the 40-plus years the products have been on the market, and internal company  communications between Monsanto scientists have been obtained by plaintiffs’ attorneys in which the scientists discuss the lack of carcinogenicity testing for Roundup products.

Multiple trials that were scheduled for this fall in the St. Louis, Missouri area have been delayed until next year.

International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a Food Industry Lobby Group

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The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a corporate-funded nonprofit organization based in Washington DC, with 17 affiliated chapters around the world. ILSI describes itself as a group that conducts “science for the public good” and “improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment.” However, investigations by academics, journalists and public interest researchers show that ILSI is a lobby group that protects the interests of the food industry, not public health.

Recent news:

  • September 2019: New York Times investigation by Andrew Jacobs reported that a trustee of the industry-funded nonprofit ILSI advised the Indian government against going ahead with warning labels on unhealthy foods. The Times described ILSI as a “shadowy industry group” and “the most powerful food industry group you’ve never heard of.” 
  • The Times cited a June 2019 study in Globalization and Health co-authored by Gary Ruskin of U.S. Right to Know reporting that ILSI operates as a lobby arm for its food and pesticide industry funders.
  • October 2019: The New York Times revealed the undisclosed ILSI ties of Bradley C. Johnston, a co-author of five recent studies that claimed red and processed meat don’t pose significant health problems. Johnston used similar methods to claim sugar is not a problem in a study funded by the food industry via ILSI.
  • See also Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog: ILSI: true colors revealed

ILSI background and funding

ILSI was founded in 1978 by Alex Malaspina, a former senior vice president at Coca-Cola who worked for Coke from 1969-2001. Coca-Cola has kept close ties with ILSI. Michael Ernest Knowles, Coca-Cola’s VP of global scientific and regulatory affairs from 2008–2013, was president of ILSI from 2009-2011. In 2015, ILSI’s president was Rhona Applebaum, who retired from her job as Coca-Cola’s chief health and science officer (and from ILSI) in 2015 after the New York Times and Associated Press reported that Coke funded the nonprofit Global Energy Balance Network to help shift blame for obesity away from sugary drinks.  

Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know and reported in a 2016 study revealed that Coke proposed and financed the Global Energy Balance Network as a “weapon” in the “growing war between the pubic health community and private industry” over obesity and the obesity epidemic. 

ILSI is funded by its corporate members and company supporters, including leading food and chemical companies such as Coca-Cola, BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta, Mars, McDonalds, chemical industry trade groups, and many others. In its annual report, ILSI and its branches reported $17,481,251 in expenses for 2017 but did not disclose specific donor information. 

U.S. Right to Know obtained a document via a state freedom of information request showing corporate contributions to ILSI Global amounting to  $2.4 million in 2012. The largest donations were $500,000 from Monsanto and over $500,000 from the pesticide industry trade group, Crop Life International. ILSI’s draft 2013 IRS tax returns show $337,000 in donations from Coca-Cola and over $650,000 from six agrichemical companies, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi Bred and Syngenta. 

Emails show how ILSI seeks to influence policy to promote industry views 

A June 2019 paper in Globalization and Health provides several examples of how ILSI advances the interests of the food industry, especially by promoting industry-friendly science and arguments to policymakers. The study is based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state public records laws.  

The researchers concluded: “ILSI seeks to influence individuals, positions, and policy, both nationally and internationally, and its corporate members deploy it as a tool to promote their interests globally. Our analysis of ILSI serves as a caution to those involved in global health governance to be wary of putatively independent research groups, and to practice due diligence before relying upon their funded studies and/or engaging in relationship with such groups.”   

As one example, the paper quotes an email from Alex Malaspina, the former Coca-Cola executive who founded ILSI, lamenting the failure of ILSI Mexico to follow the industry position on soda taxes. Malaspina describes “the mess ILSI Mexico is in because they sponsored in September a sweeteners conference when the subject of soft drinks taxation was discussed. ILSI is now suspending ILSI Mexico, until they correct their ways. A real mess.” 

ILSI undermined obesity fight in China

In January 2019, two papers by Harvard Professor Susan Greenhalgh revealed ILSI’s powerful influence on the Chinese government on issues related to obesity. The papers document how Coca-Cola and other corporations worked through the China branch of ILSI to influence decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Read the papers:

ILSI is so well-placed in China that it operates from inside the government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing.

Professor Geenhalgh’s papers document how Coca-Cola and other Western food and beverage giants “helped shape decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related diseases” by operating through ILSI to cultivate key Chinese officials “in an effort to stave off the growing movement for food regulation and soda taxes that has been sweeping the west,” the New York Times reported.  

Additional academic research from U.S. Right to Know about ILSI 

The UCSF Tobacco Industry Documents Archive has over 6,800 documents pertaining to ILSI.  

ILSI sugar study “right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook”

Public health experts denounced an ILSI-funded sugar study published in a prominent medical journal in 2016 that was a “scathing attack on global health advice to eat less sugar,” reported Anahad O’Connor in The New York Times. The ILSI-funded study argued that warnings to cut sugar are based on weak evidence and cannot be trusted.  

The Times story quoted Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University who studies conflicts of interest in nutrition research, on the ILSI study: “This comes right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook: cast doubt on the science,” Nestle said. “This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It’s shameful.”