When Bayer AG last week agreed to settle approximately 125,000 Roundup cancer cases to the tune of $10 billion—one of the largest settlements in U.S. history—some people reading the headline likely assumed three things:
First, plaintiffs are to each receive a hefty payout. Second, Roundup is now in the dustbin of recalled product history, because the main active ingredient in the weed killer, glyphosate, has been proven to cause cancer. And third, the settlement is the end of the story in the saga of the controversial product developed by the Monsanto Corporation, which Bayer AG acquired in 2018 for $62 billion.
How Big Is The Roundup Payout Per Person?
Let’s do some simple math: $10 billion divided by 100,000 cases (rounded down from 125,000, thus making the calculation easier) yields approximately $100,000 per plaintiff. Is that a fair sum? Not according to the United States Public Interest Research Group. The USPIRG says the mean cost of six months of treatment for aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma–the only type of cancer that the settlement covers–is approximately $96,000.
Ten billion seems like an astronomical amount for a settlement. But the amount not only barely covers the cost of medical bills, for some plaintiffs, the reward will be a drop in the bucket. As the New York Times reports, some plaintiffs will receive as little as $5,000. The maximum award will be $250,000.
When Will Roundup Be Pulled From The Shelves?
As part of the settlement, Bayer did not have to admit responsibility or to any wrongdoing; the company did not invent Roundup weed killer. But it did inherit the tens of thousands of lawsuits from Monsanto, including the first three lawsuits, all of which resulted in huge awards for plaintiffs.
In the first of the three lawsuits, groundskeeper Dwayne Lee Johnson was awarded $289 million, although a judge later reduced his award to $78 million. Awards were also reduced in the second and third lawsuits. However, because of the significant jury verdicts against Monsanto, the floodgates of future litigation were unleashed.
Over 100,000 lawsuits later, Bayer AG has not been forced to pull Roundup commercially. Although some U.S. cities and states have banned glyphosate-based weed killers, Roundup is still widely available in U.S. stores
Why Is Roundup Still For Sale?
To date, only one agency has deemed glyphosate potentially carcinogenic: The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is a research arm under the auspices of the World Health Organization.
According to the New York Times, the “longest and most thorough” study on agricultural workers found no association between glyphosate usage and overall cancer risk.
But critics of this study and others contend that the research was flawed; Monsanto did everything in its power to influence the data and intimidate researchers and journalists. This is one reason Monsanto developed a reputation as one of the most hated companies.
Meanwhile, per the New York Times report, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ruled in 2019 that it was a false claim to say on product labels that glyphosate causes cancer. The agency has not issued a warning about glyphosate in instances of high single-use exposure or long-term exposure.
Although many Roundup lawsuit plaintiffs are landscapers and homeowners, the bulk of Roundup’s business comes from farmers and large-scale agricultural operations, which by and large, believe that the continuation of glyphosate is critical to the U.S. food supply chain.
Does The Settlement Mean Roundup Litigation Is Over?
No. Approximately 30,000 plaintiffs have rejected the settlement offer. Bayer is also setting aside $1.25 billion for any future Roundup non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma claims.
However, the judge overseeing the class action lawsuit, said in a court filing that he may reject the $1.25 billion deal for future claims, for potential plaintiffs who have not yet sued, or not yet developed cancer. Fierce Pharma reports that the judge said in the filing,” [T]he Court is skeptical of the propriety and fairness of the proposed settlement, and is tentatively inclined to deny the motion.”
An independent expert panel will be established as part of the $1.25 billion fund. The panel will be set up to determine if glyphosate is cancerous, and if so, at what dose is the compound potentially carcinogenic? If the panel fails to find a causal connection between Roundup use and cancer, new class action lawsuit members will not be able to sue Bayer. Because it may take several years for the panel to reach a conclusion, the $1.25 billion fund also will be used for Roundup users who develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma before the panel issues an opinion.
But is it lawful for the verdict of whether or not Roundup causes cancer to fall in the hands of this expert panel rather than a judge and jury? That’s another point of contention that the judge who hinted at the $1.25 billion fund wrote about. After all, the science may change over the years. Who is to say that if the panel finds no causal connection between glyphosate and cancer, that’s the end of the story; future studies may indeed prove causation.
The proposed settlement is scheduled for July 24.
Meanwhile, Roundup isn’t the only agricultural product over which Bayer AG is settling. Dicamba, a chemical developed by Monsanto, after it is sprayed on farms, can drift and cause damage to neighboring farms. Bayer recently announced it would set aside $400 million to settle dicamba claims. The company is also setting aside over three-quarters of a billion dollars to settle PCB lawsuits. PCB is a banned toxic chemical that can leach into water supplies.
Bayer AG most likely thinks that the negative publicity surrounding Roundup will fade into the sunset with the nearly $11 billion settlement for current and potential future lawsuits. However, if glyphosate is deemed to be carcinogenic, time will only tell if a flood of new lawsuits will result. With tens of thousands of farmers around the world still using Roundup, it’s inevitable that more cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (and other cancers) will occur because of glyphosate.