Monsanto's Roundup under siege as courts award more damages against popular weed killer
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- Bayer ordered to pay $2 billion US in damages to a California couple who claim glyphosate weed killer gave them cancer.
- A legal battle is brewing in the U.S. that could pull the abortion issue back into the courts — and possibly before the supreme court.
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The world's most heavily used herbicide appears to be in trouble following a $2 billion US damages award to a California couple who claim that the weed killer Roundup gave them cancer.
On Monday, a jury in Oakland ruled that the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer — the new owners of the herbicide's maker, Monsanto — are liable because of past failures to warn about the health risks that may be associated with the popular glyphosate product.
The plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, used the weed killer around their Northern California home for more than three decades, and in recent years both have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans" back in 2015.
Bayer rejects that finding and maintains that glyphosate is safe to use in accordance with its label instructions, a conclusion that has been endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as Health Canada, and by regulators in several other countries.
Yesterday's decision, however, is the third major loss that the company has suffered in the California courts since Bayer acquired Monsanto in a $66 billion US merger last spring.
Last summer, a San Francisco jury handed Dewayne Lee Johnson $289 million in damages, ruling that his terminal non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was caused by his extensive use of Roundup as a school groundskeeper. The award has since been knocked down to $78.5 million by a judge and is now being appealed.
And in late March, another San Francisco jury awarded $80 million in damages to Edwin Hardeman, ruling that his use of Roundup had been a "substantial factor" in the development of his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The company says it intends to appeal that verdict too.
But even if Bayer succeeds in reducing the awards or overturning the decisions, it faces more than 13,400 other Roundup lawsuits in the U.S. alone. All that legal exposure has helped trim more than 44 per cent off Bayer's stock since the takeover, with the share price approaching a seven-year low today on news of the latest court decision.
And there is more trouble ahead in France, where prosecutors have launched an investigation into claims that Monsanto had long been illegally collecting information on politicians, journalists and environmentalists who were critical of its products, with hopes of influencing them to change their views.
Bayer issued an apology for the project over the weekend, calling it "completely inappropriate" and promising to hire a law firm to conduct an external investigation.
Although it seems that the story is only beginning, with a company executive acknowledging that it is "very likely" that such lists were also drawn up in other European countries.
Roundup also faces other challenges.
Vietnam recently banned the import of all glyphosate-based herbicides over health concerns. France has promised to phase out its use by 2023. And there is a growing list of North American municipalities that now ban or heavily restrict its application.
Legal pressure is also being brought to bear on end users of agricultural products, after scientific testing found trace amounts of the weed killer in many grain-based products like breakfast cereals and bread, as well as in many wines and beers.
Last summer, General Mills settled a lawsuit brought by three consumer groups, agreeing to stop labelling its Nature Valley granola bars as "100 per cent natural" following tests that showed they contained minute amounts of Roundup.
And the "fresh and healthy" restaurant chain Pret a Manger is facing at least three U.S. lawsuits claiming that its cookies, sandwiches, and bread have been "deceptively labelled" as natural, given that they contain traces of glyphosate.
A post-Roundup future, however, is difficult to imagine.
In the United States alone, it is estimated that more than 1.6 billion kilograms of the herbicide has been sprayed since it was first introduced in 1974. Worldwide use now exceeds 9 billion kilograms.
And glyphosate use has skyrocketed since Monsanto started marketing "Roundup Ready" genetically engineered soy, corn, canola and other crops in the mid-1990s.
According to some estimates, Bayer is selling about $5 billion US worth of the weedkiller each year, which is about one-fifth of the value of the entire world market for herbicides.
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A legal battle is brewing in the U.S. that could drag the abortion issue back in front of the courts — and possibly before the supreme court, reporter Lyndsay Duncombe writes.
When she was 28, and a student, Evonnia Woods had an abortion.
Woods told her story in the rotunda of the Missouri legislature last week — standing at a microphone in front of line of women dressed as handmaids from the TV series based on Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale.
"It makes me angry that I have to be here. It makes me angry that I even have to do this," Woods said.
"I feel like it's an uphill battle."
The Republican-controlled Missouri legislature is expected to vote this week on the "Missouri Stands For The Unborn Act." Among other restrictions, it would make abortion illegal once a fetal heartbeat or brain wave activity is detected — defined in the bill as between six and eight weeks of pregnancy. That's before many women even know they are pregnant.
Four other states have recently passed so-called heartbeat bills. All will likely be thrown out when challenged in court.
And that's exactly the point.
One of these bills could make it to the U.S. Supreme Court as a challenge to Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion in the United States. With Donald Trump's appointment of two conservative justices, anti-abortion activists and politicians believe the law could be overturned.
"Ultimately the goal is to save lives," said Rep. Nick Schroer, who co-sponsored the bill in the Missouri House.
"But if it sets off a tidal wave and, you know, a ripple effect of different states looking to us for guidance against Roe vs. Wade — I'm all for it."
On The National this week, we'll look at the drive to make abortions tougher to get in several U.S. states.
- Lyndsay Duncombe
A few words on …
He was air drumming in his car seat before he could walk and talk — now, four-year-old Atlas Axl Galvin is playing in his dad’s band. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheMoment?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TheMoment</a> <a href="https://t.co/6fa3j8tufy">https://t.co/6fa3j8tufy</a> <a href="https://t.co/AKyxCQxdY2">pic.twitter.com/AKyxCQxdY2</a>—@CBCTheNational
Quote of the moment
"The United States should carefully consider what kind of consequences their daylight robbery could bring to the political situation and should send back our vessel without hesitation."
- Part of a statement, issued today by North Korea's foreign ministry, calling for the immediate return of the cargo ship Wise Honest, seized by U.S. authorities for allegedly busting coal export sanctions.
What The National is reading
- Muslim women report spike in harassment since Quebec secularism bill tabled (CBC)
- U.S. "blames Iran" for damaged tankers (BBC)
- Huawei willing to sign "no-spy" agreements with government: chairman (Reuters)
- Man pilots submarine to the deepest place in the ocean — and finds trash (CBC)
- Gen X is a mess (NYTimes)
- A spider that turns its web into a slingshot, flinging itself at prey (Science)
- Fruit with odour of "onions in a gym sock" sparks university evacuation (Sky News)
- The rise of hyphenated last names in pro sports (The Pudding)
Today in history
May 14, 1989: Allan Gregg and Jake Gold make music their business
Which is good, because it clearly wasn't fashion. This Venture profile details how the Tory pollster teamed up with a music agent to try and make Canada's favourite band, The Tragically Hip, a worldwide force.
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