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May 8, 2019

Sparks to Fly in Closing Arguments at Third Roundup Cancer Trial

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After two costly courtroom losses, lawyers for Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG on Wednesday were set to make closing arguments in what is the third trial brought by people who blame their cancers on use of Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killer brands.

Plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a married couple in their 70s who both have non-Hodgkin lymphoma, claim that Monsanto should be held liable for their illnesses because scientific evidence shows Monsanto’s herbicides can cause cancer and because Monsanto failed to properly warn of the risks.

While Monsanto has maintained that the weight of scientific evidence shows no causal connection between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and its glyphosate herbicides, lawyers for the Pilliods presented scientific evidence during the trial that does show a cancer link. Moreover, the plaintiffs’ attorneys showed jurors a trove of internal Monsanto communications and other records that they said displayed the company’s manipulation of scientific literature, including ghostwriting several papers published in scientific journals. Also among the evidence were records showing Monsanto efforts to influence regulatory agencies, to plant helpful stories in the global news outlet Reuters, and to discredit scientists who determined the company’s products were potentially carcinogenic.

Closing arguments are expected to take most or all of the day and tensions on both sides are high.

On Tuesday, Monsanto filed a motion seeking to head off what it said were likely to be “improper” closing arguments by the lawyers representing the Pilliods. They singled out attorneys Brent Wisner and Michael Baum for criticism, citing various actions.

“Monsanto has a real concern that counsel’s closing argument in this case will be replete with misconduct,” the motion states.

In the motion, Monsanto attorneys said that the Pilliod lawyers “already turned this trial into a circus on multiple occasions,” including by twice putting on gloves before handling a Roundup bottle that contained only water.

In addition, the lawyers “paraded around celebrities and anti-Monsanto advocates Neil Young and Daryl Hannah… engaging in photo-ops right outside the jury room in a clearly improper attempt to influence the jury.”

“If any members of the jury were to perform a simple Google search for Mr. Young or Ms. Hannah, they would quickly learn of their strong anti-Monsanto sentiment,” Monsanto said in its filing, pointing out that four years ago Young produced an album critical of the company called “The Monsanto Years.”

In addition, Monsanto said, “Ms. Hannah’s Twitter account contains numerous tweets about the Roundup trials, including one where she specifically wrote about her experience in court during this trial: “Well that was a trip! – of course I know these skeevy corporate cronies manipulate & lie – but to see it right in front of your eyes is soooo depressing & creepy.”’

Monsanto also said that Wisner’s characterization of the case as “historic” should not be allowed again. Similarly, none of the plaintiffs’ lawyers should be allowed to suggest that the verdict will “change the world or have any effect outside of this case,” Monsanto argued.

The tiny courtroom in Oakland, California is expected to be packed. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who won the first trial against Monsanto last summer, is expected to be in attendance, as is Edwin Hardeman, who won the second trial.

Like the two previous trials, internal Monsanto records have provided some drama. On Tuesday, internal communications from last summer were made available by the court indicating clear  White House support for Monsanto. In a report attached to a July 2018 email to Monsanto global strategy official Todd Rands, the strategic intelligence and advisory firm Hakluyt  reported to Monsanto the following:

“A domestic policy adviser at the White House said, for instance: ‘We have Monsanto’s back on pesticides regulation. We are prepared to go toe-to-toe on any disputes they may have with, for example, the EU. Monsanto need not fear any additional regulation from this administration.”