A San Francisco jury found that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide was a “substantial factor” in the cancer of California resident Edwin Hardeman. Hardeman says he sprayed the widely used herbicide on his property for almost three decades and once got the product directly on his skin. He has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The jury will now consider damages owed by Bayer, which owns Monsanto. The federal case could have implications for thousands of others accusing the company of making them sick.
More than 11,000 people have filed suit against Monsanto Company (now Bayer) alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, alledging that Monsanto covered up the risks. As part of the discovery process, Monsanto has had to turn over millions of pages of its internal records. More than 760 lawsuits are pending in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and the cases have been combined for handling as multidistrict litigation (MDL) under Judge Vince Chhabria.
The jury came to this verdict despite the judge barring evidence about Monsanto’s efforts to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer, after it classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015. Monsanto spent millions of dollars on various secretive tactics aimed at discrediting IARC. Documents show the company discussing using third parties who appeared to be independent of Monsanto to publicly criticize IARC and push Monsanto propaganda points. Internal Monsanto records show the company’s role in ghostwriting an article that appeared on Forbes’ contributors’ platform, and they show that the company was behind a story published by Reuters in 2017 that falsely claimed an IARC scientist withheld information from IARC that would have changed the classification.
The judge also barred evidence about how Monsanto worked to discredit French scientist Gilles-Éric Séralini after publication of his 2012 study findings about rats fed water dosed with Roundup. Internal Monsanto records show a coordinated effort to get the Seralini paper retracted, including an email string between Monsanto employees who apparently were so proud of what they called a “multimedia event that was designed for maximum negative publicity” against Seralini that they designated it as an “achievement” worth recognition.
The judge did allow portions of a 2015 internal Monsanto email to be introduced as evidence. In the email, company scientist Bill Heydens discusses plans to ghostwrite a series of new scientific papers that will contradict IARC’s classification of glyphosate. In the email, Heydens remarks on how this plan is similar to the ghostwriting of a scientific paper written and published in 2000 in response to another study that found glyphosate to be unsafe.
Officials with Monsanto owner Bayer AG are feeling the effects of the decision has the company’s share prices dropped even lower. The company’s shares already took a huge hit in August after the jury in the first Roundup cancer trial found that the company’s herbicides caused cancer. In August 2018, a state jury awarded former school groundskeeper DeWayne “Lee” Johnson nearly $300 million in damages after Monsanto’s Roundup was found to be responsible for his cancer, though the amount was later reduced to $78 million. Of course, Monsanto appealed the verdict and Johnson has cross appealed, seeking to reinstate the jury award.