Chemical giant ordered to pay cancer patient $398m

Jurors found that Monsanto's weed killer contributed "substantially" to Mr Dewayne Johnson's terminal illness.
Jurors found that Monsanto's weed killer contributed "substantially" to Mr Dewayne Johnson's terminal illness.

BERLIN • Chemical giant Monsanto's German owners insisted yesterday that the weed killer Roundup was "safe", rejecting a California jury's decision to order the company to pay nearly US$290 million (S$398 million) for failing to warn a dying groundskeeper that the product might cause cancer.

Bayer - which recently acquired the US giant - said the California ruling went against scientific evidence, even as observers predicted thousands more future claims in the wake of Monsanto's defeat .

"On the basis of scientific conclusions, the views of worldwide regulatory authorities and the decades-long practical experience with glyphosate use, Bayer is convinced that glyphosate is safe and does not cause cancer," the company said in a statement.

It said future court proceedings with other juries could "arrive at different conclusions" than the California jury, which on Friday ordered Monsanto to pay out in the lawsuit, the first to claim that glyphosate causes cancer.

Jurors unanimously found that Monsanto - which vowed to appeal the decision - acted with "malice" and that its weed killers Roundup and the professional grade version RangerPro contributed "substantially" to Mr Dewayne Johnson's terminal illness.

Following eight weeks of trial proceedings, the San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay US$250 million in punitive damages along with compensatory damages and other costs, bringing the total figure to nearly US$290 million.

Mr Johnson, diagnosed in 2014 with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma - a cancer that affects white blood cells - says in the lawsuit that he repeatedly used a professional form of Roundup while working at a school in Benicia, California.

 

"I am glad to be here; the cause is way bigger than me," said Mr Johnson. "Hopefully this thing will get the attention it needs," said the 46-year-old, who wept openly after the verdict.

The lawsuit built on 2015 findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the United Nations' World Health Organisation, which classified Roundup's main ingredient glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, causing the state of California to follow suit.

Monsanto said decades of scientific studies have shown that glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide, is safe for human use.

"The jury got it wrong," the company's vice-president Scott Partridge told reporters outside the courthouse.

In a statement, Monsanto said it was "sympathetic to Mr Johnson and his family", but promised to appeal the ruling and "continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective and safe tool for farmers and others".

Founded in 1901 in St Louis, Missouri, Monsanto began producing agrochemicals in the 1940s. It launched Roundup, its leading product, in 1976. It was acquired by Bayer for more than US$62 billion in June.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 12, 2018, with the headline 'Chemical giant ordered to pay cancer patient $398m'. Print Edition | Subscribe