It has been only two months since Bayer finalized its purchase of agriculture giant Monsanto, and already the company faces a long legal battle over Monsanto’s best-known legacy products: herbicides containing glyphosate.
On Aug. 13, a San Francisco jury awarded Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old groundskeeper, $289 million in compensatory and punitive damages. It concluded that the glyphosate-based herbicides Roundup and Ranger Pro were associated with his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The case is the first of more than 4,000 alleging a link between the herbicides and cancer. Monsanto sells the off-patent herbicides as well as crop traits for glyphosate tolerance. The verdict immediately pushed Bayer’s stock price down more than 11%.
Monsanto says it will file posttrial motions and, if needed, appeal the ruling. In a statement, the company says the jury ignored glyphosate’s 40 years of safe use as well as hundreds of scientific studies and regulatory reviews.
“Glyphosate does not cause cancer. The jury got it wrong,” Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge wrote. “We are confident science will prevail upon appeal.”
Johnson’s lawyers argued that the herbicides’ mixture of glyphosate and other harmful ingredients was a factor in his disease. Large personal-injury jury awards can be whittled down on appeal, but the focus on formulation cocktails makes the outcome of the cases hard to predict, according to Laurence Alexander, an analyst at the investment bank Jefferies Group.
Alexander estimates that glyphosate and associated traits bring in about $4.4 billion in annual profit to Monsanto and other firms that sell them. Consumer use of glyphosate herbicides may shrink following news of the case, but farmers are much less likely to abandon the herbicides or related seeds, Alexander predicts.
The verdict may add momentum to efforts outside the U.S. to restrict the use of glyphosate. Germany’s environment minister, Svenja Schulze, is pushing to phase out the herbicide. Earlier this month, a judge in Brazil ruled that registrations for glyphosate products would be suspended until the government reevaluates their toxicity.