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Monsanto finally pays up

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This is big news. Bayer, following its 2018 acquisition of Monsanto, will pay up to $10.9 billion to settle nearly 100,000 individual lawsuits alleging that exposure to the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup causes cancer. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015. Since WHO’s announcement, thousands who were exposed to Roundup and subsequently diagnosed with cancer have filed suit against Monsanto. This week’s settlement follows on the heels of three prior high-profile lawsuits against Monsanto (Bayer). These lawsuits set a precedent that didn’t bode well for Bayer’s bottom line. Juries ruled that Roundup was the cause of plaintiffs’ cancer and ordered billions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. 

The domino effect

In the first historic ruling against glyphosate in August of 2018, a jury of the San Francisco Superior Court found the Monsanto corporation fully liable for health damages caused by Roundup. The plaintiff, DeWayne Johnson, was awarded $289 million in damages. Johnson, a school groundskeeper, was the first of thousands of plaintiffs to move forward to trial. His case was expedited because of his terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis.

Less than a year later in March of 2019, a jury found the Monsanto corporation liable for a second California man’s cancer. Bayer (Monsanto) was ordered to pay Edwin Hardeman $75 million in punitive damages, $5 million for past and future suffering, and more than $200,000 to cover medical bills. Hardeman was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 after using Roundup to kill invasive plants on his property. The lawsuit alleged that Monsanto knew or should have known of the risks associated with the use of the herbicide, and failed to provide adequate warnings. During the case, the jury heard evidence that Monsanto was aware of studies that showed an association between Roundup and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and that the agrichemical giant went so far as to ghostwrite scientific papers.

Just two months later in May of 2019, a jury in the San Francisco Superior Court found Monsanto liable yet again — this time for plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The plaintiffs were awarded over $2 billion. Alva Pilliod was awarded $18 million in compensatory and $1 billion in punitive damages, and Alberta Pilliod was awarded $37 million in compensatory and $1 billion in punitive damages. 

A turning point? 

This week’s $10.9 billion settlement is yet another landmark moment that signals a turning tide against agrichemical giants like Bayer. For decades, Monsanto assured farmers, farmworkers, pesticide applicators, and homeowners that glyphosate was harmless, even with prolonged exposure. For too long, mega-corporations have profited from toxic pesticides, obscured the risks associated with them, and avoided taking responsibility for the damages they have caused. Following the three previous verdicts, Bayer sees the writing on the wall and is seeking to mitigate its losses by settling and paying up now. 

Though these rulings are undoubtedly good news for plaintiffs, we know it’s not enough. These legal proceedings are a bandaid on a broken regulatory system. 

When damages are awarded by a jury, a lengthy appeals process usually follows. As of today, none of the three original landmark cases have resulted in actual payouts to the plaintiffs. Assuming the legal process results in payment, settlements are good news for awardees, but Bayer (Monsanto) does not have to admit to liability or wrongdoing. As Bayer (Monsanto) is finally forced to pay for its shameful behavior, we must also hold our public agencies accountable. It’s time to get carcinogenic pesticides off the market, and fight for the protective regulations we all deserve.

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