After brief deliberations, a St. Louis jury on Thursday sided with Monsanto in the latest Roundup cancer trial. The win puts Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG at five trials won versus three won by plaintiffs. The jury took only a few hours to reach the defense verdict.
The decision in favor of the company came after a lawyer for three cancer patients sought to convince jurors that his clients’ exposure to Monsanto herbicides caused their illnesses while a lawyer for the company insisted that scientific evidence proves the products are safe.
The five-week trial closed as it began – with starkly different presentations about decades of scientific studies about glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer and other herbicides, and with evidence about Monsanto efforts to thwart concerns that its products might cause cancer.
The case is part of the sprawling nationwide litigation that began in 2015 after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. More than 100,000 people in the US have brought claims alleging they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) after long-term use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup.
Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has settled the majority of the cases, but this was the eighth to go to trial. Many more are scheduled over the next several months and into next year.
Bayer issued a statement following the win: “The jury’s conclusions are consistent with the assessments of expert regulators worldwide as well as the overwhelming evidence from four decades of scientific studies concluding that Roundup can be used safely and is not carcinogenic. While we have great sympathy for the plaintiffs in this case, the jury has weighed the evidence from both sides in this case and concluded that Roundup is not responsible for their injuries. We continue to stand behind the safety of Roundup and will confidently defend the safety of our product as well as our good faith actions in any future litigation.”
The three plaintiffs represented in the St. Louis trial were 70-year-old Cheryl Davis, who has suffered through two bouts of follicular lymphoma her doctors have told her is considered incurable; 65-year-old Marty Cox, a US army veteran diagnosed in 2019 with aggressive diffuse large B cell lymphoma; and 75-year-old Gary Gentile who was diagnosed with Stage 4 diffuse large B cell lymphoma in 2019. All three allege that their use of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides caused their cancers.
A “rare peek behind the curtain”
In making his closing argument, plaintiffs’ lawyer Gibbs Henderson told jurors that evidence in the case gave them a “rare peek behind the curtain” about how wealthy corporations “corrupt science.”
During the trial, jurors were presented with internal Monsanto emails and other communications showing company scientists talking about ghostwriting scientific papers, and engaging in various tactics to try to discredit a group of international cancer scientists that classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Henderson said regulators, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have been improperly influenced by Monsanto, and have relied heavily on Monsanto’s own studies in agreeing with the company that glyphosate is not linked to cancer. In comparison, independent scientists who have relied on peer-reviewed, published, independent research have found that there is a distinct cancer risk, he said.
Henderson cited multiple studies, including a meta-analysis published in 2019, that found an increased risk of NHL linked to exposure to glyphosate herbicides.
He castigated Monsanto for not doing long-term carcinogenicity testing on Roundup, saying the company was more interested in making money.
“The EPA is not going to do anything about it, but in this case you can,” Henderson told the jury in his closing argument.
“Tin foil hat stuff”
On Monsanto’s behalf, defense attorney Manuel Cachan told jurors that while plaintiffs wanted to “talk about emails,” the focus should be on “the science.” He said there are more than 80 genotox studies finding no cancer link to glyphosate, and said Monsanto continues to do studies today even though “repeatedly, the product has been shown to be safe.”
Cachan told jurors in his closing argument that regulatory agencies around the world agree that there is no cancer link to glyphosate, and said it was “tin foil hat stuff” to believe that international regulators might all be engaged in a “conspiracy” to find glyphosate safe.
He said the herbicide had consistently been determined to be safe through nine presidential administrations, and he said IARC had only looked at “limited” evidence.
Monsanto “can’t win” in the eyes of critics, he said. The company is accused of not doing enough studies, but the studies it has done are said not to be legitimate, he told the jury.
Cancer is a “terrible thing,” but most of the time NHL is “something that happens naturally and unpredictably” in the body, he said.
The cause of the plaintiffs’ cancers was not Roundup, Cachan said. “That is not what the science says. We ask you to follow the science.”
EPA under scrutiny
Monsanto introduced glyphosate in 1974 and it is regarded as the world’s most widely used herbicide and has been considered so safe by regulators that it is widely used by farmers in growing an array of food for people and animals.
But as usage has expanded over the years, so has scientific scrutiny. In determining glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, IARC found “strong” evidence of genotoxicity and a “statistically significant association between NHL and exposure to glyphosate.” IARC said it reviewed “all of the available studies” about a glyphosate connection to NHL when coming to its conclusions.
Notably, though Monsanto hinges a lot of its defense on EPA safety findings, in June, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the EPA’s favorable human health safety assessment for glyphosate, ruling that the EPA did not properly follow scientific guidelines when it determined glyphosate was not carcinogenic.
The court found that EPA officials discounted several important studies and that “most studies EPA examined indicated that human exposure to glyphosate is associated with an at least somewhat increased risk of developing NHL.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs were not permitted by the judge in the case to tell jurors of that information, however.
The trial was livestreamed by Courtroom View Network.