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Bayer to pay up to $10.9B US to settle Roundup lawsuits

Bayer AG has agreed to pay as much as $10.9 billion US to settle thousands of lawsuits in the United States that claim its widely used weed killer Roundup caused cancer. The agreement comes after more than a year of talks and resolves litigation that has pummelled the company's share price.

Agreement is subject to approval by a judge in California

Bayer AG has settled lawsuits related to its Roundup weed killer. (Reed Saxon/The Associated Press)

After more than a year of talks, Bayer AG has agreed to pay as much as $10.9 billion US to settle thousands of U.S. lawsuits claiming that its widely used weed killer Roundup caused cancer, resolving litigation that has pummelled the company's share price.

The German drugs and pesticides maker has come to terms over about 75 per cent of the 125,000 filed and un-filed claims overall, the company said in a statement on Wednesday. The deal ends legal disputes it inherited with its $63 billion takeover of Monsanto in 2018.

The settled cases over Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers account for about 95 per cent of those currently set for trial, according to the statement.

"The Roundup settlement is the right action at the right time for Bayer to bring a long period of uncertainty to an end," Bayer chief executive Werner Baumann said.

The company said it will make a payment of $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve the current Roundup litigation — including an allowance expected to cover unresolved claims — and $1.25 billion to support a separate class agreement to address potential future litigation.

"Bayer is not getting complete relief, but trying to do as much as it can to calm uncertainty," said Adam Zimmerman, a law professor at Loyola Law School who has followed the litigation. He called the deal creative.

"I can see how it's attractive for Bayer," he said.

The deal dwarfs previous out-of-court product liability settlements, such as Merck & Co's $5 billion deal to end litigation over its withdrawn painkiller, Vioxx, and Bayer deals worth $2 billion to settle claims of harm caused by its Yasmin and Yaz birth control pills.

Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, federally appointed mediator in the dispute, said 'Bayer wisely decided to settle the litigation rather than roll the dice in American court.' (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Ken Feinberg, who was appointed settlement mediator by a federal judge more than a year ago, said that while nearly 25,000 claims remained unsettled, there will be no more trials as cases settle in coming months.

"Bayer wisely decided to settle the litigation rather than roll the dice in American court," said Feinberg, who has mediated other high-profile disputes, including over the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and Volkswagen's diesel emissions scandal.

Bayer said in February it did not need to write down Monsanto's value in its books if it has to spend $10 billion on a settlement, reflecting the average analyst estimate at the time.

Appeals to continue

The three cases that have gone to trial will continue through the appeals process and are not covered by the settlement, Bayer said.

A U.S. federal appeals court on Monday blocked California from requiring that Bayer label glyphosate-based Roundup with a cancer warning.

That ruling, which permanently bars California from requiring a cancer warning on glyphosate-based products, is separate from the wider litigation over whether Roundup causes a type of blood cancer.

Weeds are sprayed with a bottle of Bayer AG Roundup brand weed-killer in this arranged photograph outside a home in Princeton, Ill., on Thursday, March 28, 2019. Bayer will continue to sell the product without a cancer warning on the label. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

The company, whose management in April regained shareholder support for its handling of the litigation, has denied claims that Roundup or its active ingredient glyphosate causes cancer, saying decades of independent studies have shown the product is safe for human use.

Bayer said it expects to maintain its investment-grade credit ratings and intends to keep its dividend policy.

Before the decision to settle, Bayer contemplated continuing to litigate cases, but a risk assessment concluded that additional trials were not worth the financial and reputational risk, the company said.

Roundup still widely available

Monsanto began selling Roundup in 1974, and while the formulation is no longer patent protected, Roundup remains widely available.

Bayer shares are down 29 per cent since it close the Monsanto deal in June 2018. At one point last year as juries ruled against the company, Bayer's market value had fallen below what it paid for Monsanto.

Bayer will continue selling Roundup and will not add a cancer warning label to the product, a company spokesperson said.

Bayer has repeatedly said Roundup is safe and important to farmers who use the herbicide in combination with the company's genetically modified seeds.

Potential future cases will be governed by a class agreement that is subject to court approval. The agreement includes the establishment the creation of an independent Class Science Panel. The Class Science Panel will determine whether Roundup can cause cancer, and if so, at what minimum levels.

The settlement provides "a process to stop everything while the scientific claims are established," Loyola's Zimmerman said.

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