In what is the largest settlement in pharmaceutical history, Bayer AG will pay between $10.1 billion and $10.9 billion, to resolve the bulk of the nearly 125,000 lawsuits against the Monsanto Corporation’s best-selling herbicide, Roundup Weed & Grass Killer. Bayer, the German multinational pharmaceutical company, inherited the lawsuits when it acquired the Monsanto Corporation in 2018 for $63 billion.
The settlement covers approximately 75% of the current Roundup lawsuits. This amounts to 95,000 cases, of which, up to $9.6 billion will be set aside for current and unresolved claims, while the remaining $1 billion or so will be for any future litigation.
There are approximately 25,000 unsettled Roundup cancer lawsuits. A court-appointed mediator told Reuters that an agreement is expected within the next few months.
As of April, Bayer had been sued by over 50,000 U.S.-based plaintiffs, who allege that Roundup’s main active ingredient, glycophase, causes cancer.
However, last month, when Bayer unofficially announced that it was setting aside billions to settle Roundup cases, Bloomberg News reported that the settlement would only cover those who developed and died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma within the last 10 years.
Some users of Roundup also developed multiple myeloma, a cancer in white blood cells that forms in bone marrow; Bayer’s $11 billion settlement, per the Bloomberg report, does not set aside any compensation for Roundup users who developed multiple myeloma.
According to NBC News, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said in a statement that the decision to settle the lawsuits was the right one, in order to end a long period of uncertainty.
“The decision to resolve the Roundup litigation enables us to focus fully on the critical supply of health care and food,” Baumann said in the statement. “It will also return the conversation about the safety and utility of glyphosate-based herbicides to the scientific and regulatory arena and to the full body of science.”
NBC News reports that the settlement does not contain any admission of wrongdoing or liability.
Despite Settlement, Roundup Still Available For Purchase
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which falls under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. And two years later, the toxic compound was listed by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as a chemical known to the state to cause cancer.
Some U.S. states and municipalities and at least 24 countries have banned the use of glyphosate. However, Roundup is still commercially available in the U.S. and Canada. Despite the tens of thousands of lawsuits, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains that glyphosate does not cause cancer. In fact, earlier this year, the EPA re-approved glyphosate for a 15-year period.
And two days ago, a judge blocked California’s attempt to require a warning label on products that contain the weed- and grass-killing compound.
Glyphosate, according to the Environmental Working Group, is mostly applied to corn, soybean and wheat crops. It’s also sprayed on oats and chickpeas and other crops to speed the harvest, which is why nearly every oat-based cereal (including those sold by General Mills and Quaker) are contaminated with glyphosate.
EWG says that next month, it will reveal testing that shows glyphosate contamination is widespread in hummus and chickpeas.
Will Americans Stop Using Roundup For Landscaping?
In addition to its heavy use in the U.S. food supply, glyphosate-based products are the go-to weedkiller of choice for millions of American greenthumbs and landscapers. The first person to take Monsanto to court was Dewayne Johnson, a Bay Area, California groundskeeper. Johnson alleged that after being accidentally drenched with Roundup while on the job, he developed a deadly form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In a Time profile on Johnson, the former groundskeeper says he fears he may not live to receive his award.
In August 2018, a unanimous jury found that Monsanto “had failed to warn of the carcinogenic dangers of its popular Roundup herbicide and related products.” A judge slashed Johnson’s award to $78 million from $289 million. Monsanto appealed, seeking to throw out the award; the company’s request for a new trial was denied. Evidence presented in Johnson’s lawsuit against Monsanto included internal company records that included discussions of “ghostwriting” scientific papers to make it seem that glyphosate is safe. The internal memos also revealed plans to discredit the aforementioned International Agency for Research on Cancer.
As for whether sales of glyphosate-based products such as Roundup (there are several other brands) will decline, time will only tell.