Roundup on sale in San Francisco, 2019.
Photo: Haven Daley (AP)

Monsanto Co. lost a legal battle over its massively popular Roundup herbicide on Monday to the tune of $2.055 billion, with a jury in San Francisco ordering the court to pay out the stunning sum to a couple that said it caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

That figure, which consists of $2 billion in punitive damages and $55 million in compensatory ones, is all but certain to be reduced by the trial judge or on appeal—University of California, Hastings School of Law professor David Levine told the Associated Press there is “There is zero chance it will stand.” But it is still yet another blow to Monsanto, which lost two prior suits in San Francisco and is further awaiting “an estimated 13,000 lawsuits” that remain pending around the country, the AP wrote.

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The plaintiffs in the case, Alva and Alberta Pilliod of Livermore, California, said they used Roundup once a week for nine months of the year for more than three decades before being given their cancer diagnoses in 2011 and 2015 respectively, according to BuzzFeed News.

“We wish that Monsanto had warned us ahead of time of the dangers of using Monsanto and that there was something in the front of their label that said, ‘Danger, may cause cancer,’” Alberta Pilliod said at a press conference, per BuzzFeed. “It’s changed our lives forever. We can’t do the things that we used to be able to do and we really resent Monsanto for that fact.” 

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Monsanto, which is owned by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, denies that Roundup and its key ingredient, glyphosate, are carcinogenic or that the herbicide poses a health risk when used according to label instructions. It is also insisting its legal fortunes could change, as none of the three cases in California have yet gone to appeals courts. Per CNN:

The septuagenarian plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod of Livermore, used the weed killer on their property for more than three decades and were diagnosed with the same type of cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, four years apart, according to their attorneys.

Bayer said the jury was presented with “cherry-picked findings” inconsistent with a statement last month by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which announced that glyphosate was not a carcinogen and posed no public health risk when used as directed.

“The contrast between today’s verdict and EPA’s conclusion that there are ‘no risks to public health from the current registered uses of glyphosate’ could not be more stark,” Bayer said.

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The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) did deem Roundup a probable carcinogen in 2015—and though the evidence was mixed and partially based on animal studies, some scientific research has backed that classification. The Environmental Protection Agency’s official position is that “there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen,” with the EPA reiterating this stance at the end of April. However, Monsanto has also faced accusations that it benefited from a cozy relationship with EPA officials and that it interfered with supposedly independent scientific reviews that concluded Roundup is safe.

“Juries informed by independent science have repeatedly rejected the Monsanto-promoted myth that glyphosate poses no cancer risks,” Center for Biological Diversity senior scientist Nathan Donley told BuzzFeed in a statement. “It’s telling that this important verdict comes just two weeks after the Trump EPA proposed to re-approved this cancer-linked pesticide as safe.”

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The ultimate size of any award that may end up being handed out remains unclear, though Levine told the AP that gap between the $2 billion in punitive damages and $55 million in compensatory damages, a 36:1 ratio, far exceeds the typical four to one ratio judges set as a cap in most circumstances. It also seems to fly in the face of a 2016 California Supreme Court ruling that found the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages in successful lawsuits should almost never exceed nine to one, the AP added.

[Associated Press/CNN]

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