Monsanto, a biochemical subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company Bayer, sells the world’s most commonly used herbicide: Roundup. Although it should be noted that Monsanto is the leading glyphosate market participant because of its early adoption of glyphosate-tolerant crops and glyphosate-based herbicides, Monsanto, along with DowDuPont and other major companies, accounts for more than 50 percent of the global glyphosate market share. An investigation into glyphosate, a toxic active ingredient in Roundup, began in March of 2015, triggering a series of lawsuits and garnering international media attention. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, glyphosate was deemed a probable cause of cancer. Monsanto fired back by stating, “[the] IARC’s classification is inconsistent with the overwhelming consensus of regulatory authorities and other experts.” Yet, the study caused thousands of victims to seek justice for the potential damage glyphosate inflicted on their lives. 

Roundup’s Lethal Consequences 

In fact, studies show that prostate cancer is more prevalent in communities with high use of Roundup, which has led Woodland, an agricultural town in northern California and one of Monsanto’s largest headquarters in North America, to indefinitely suspend the spraying of glyphosate, in order to prevent widespread cancers within its community. Research also links breast cancer to Roundup, because increased exposure to glyphosate can lead to mammary tumors. In fact, a 2013 study found even low levels of glyphosate could increase the rate of breast cancer cell growth in petri dishes. Studies also indicate a relationship between Roundup and brain cancer, because parental exposure to glyphosate two years prior to a child’s birth can significantly increase the risk of the child developing brain cancer. Moreover, people with the highest exposure to glyphosate have a 41 percent higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. In short, both the studies and the stories behind glyphosate’s destructive path lead to the question of Monsanto’s accountability. 

However, the blatant manipulation of scientific research, deliberate efforts to mislead the public, and complete disregard for public safety makes these moves on behalf of Monsanto seem both insincere and illegitimate. 

Until recently, most of the victims were unaware of the environmental hazards associated with the use of Roundup. Nowadays, however, over 13,000 plaintiffs, all of whom are Roundup-induced cancer victims or related to these victims, have filed suit against Monsanto. The Plaintiffs allege Monsanto engaged in a variety of duplicitous strategies to conceal the dangers of its herbicide, including conspiring with regulatory agencies, falsifying scientific research with ghostwritten studies, and employing outside entities to advertise the safety of Roundup while ensuring these organizations and individuals falsely seemed to be acting independently of Monsanto. Out of these thousands of cases, so far three cases, one of which took place in federal court and the other two in California state court, resulted in damages awarded totaling in the aggregate upwards of $190 million.  

On March 19, 2019, the first federal trial case of Edwin Hardeman V. Monsanto, resulted in a unanimous jury decision which granted Hardeman a verdict victory of $80 million—which was eventually lowered to $25 million—with the jury members deciding that Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

In a California state court case involving Dewayne Johnson, who successfully filed suit against Monsanto and received a verdict sum of $289 million—which was eventually downsized to $78 million—the former groundskeeper offered pithy and heartbreaking insight into the realities of these settlements in an interview with TIME magazine in which he said, “I won a historic lawsuit, but may not live to get the money.” Moreover, in the other California state court case of an elderly couple, Alva and Alberta Pilliod were awarded $2.05 billion for punitive and compensatory damages—which was eventually downsized to $87 million—because of Monsanto’s defective product. Currently, a suit involving the first case of a child with Roundup-induced cancer further threatens the company’s bottom line and reveals the traumatizing extent of the herbicide’s damage. 

Financial Freefall

As the litigation proceeds, investors in Bayer, which owns Monsanto, have grown more restless and many are pushing Bayer to seriously consider a global settlement. Such a settlement would be incredibly costly, with several experts estimating the number could range from $2 billion to $3 billion at best, and up to $10 billion at worst. 

With the stocks of Bayer reaching a 7-year low after the company lost the $2 billion verdict to a couple who had contracted Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, the biochemical giant has begun seeking alternatives for glyphosate in an effort to rebuild its image with consumers. Bayer has also reportedly offered a total $8 billion settlement to “resolve” thousands of cancer claims, which combined with the postponement of upcoming cases, are efforts to portray the company in a positive light. However, the blatant manipulation of scientific research, deliberate efforts to mislead the public, and complete disregard for public safety makes these moves on behalf of Monsanto seem both insincere and illegitimate. In light of the emotional burden these illnesses can have on families, the $8 billion gesture will likely be rejected as “too little, too late.”

From the Trenches,

Roy Oppenheim