US jury orders Monsanto to pay $290mn to cancer patient over weed killer

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos reads the verdict in the case against Monsanto at the Superior Court Of California in San Francisco, California, on August 10, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 11 August 2018

US jury orders Monsanto to pay $290mn to cancer patient over weed killer

  • The lawsuit built on 2015 findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the UN World Health Organization
  • The lawsuit is the first to accuse the product of causing cancer, but observers say a Monsanto defeat likely opens the door to thousands of other claims against the company

SAN FRANCISCO: A California jury ordered chemical giant Monsanto to pay nearly $290 million Friday for failing to warn a dying groundskeeper that its weed killer Roundup might cause cancer.
Jurors unanimously found that Monsanto — which vowed to appeal — acted with “malice” and that its weed killers Roundup and the professional grade version RangerPro contributed “substantially” to Dewayne Johnson’s terminal illness.
Following eight weeks of trial proceedings, the San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay $250 million in punitive damages along with compensatory damages and other costs, bringing the total figure to nearly $290 million.
“The jury got it wrong,” the company’s vice president Scott Partridge told reporters outside the courthouse.
Johnson, a California groundskeeper diagnosed in 2014 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer that affects white blood cells — says he repeatedly used a professional form of Roundup while working at a school in Benicia, California.
“I want to thank everybody on the jury from the bottom of my heart,” Johnson, 46, said during a press conference after the verdict.
“I am glad to be here; the cause is way bigger than me. Hopefully this thing will get the attention it needs.”
Johnson, who appeared to be fighting back sobs while the verdict was read, wept openly, as did some jurors, when he met with the panel afterward.
The lawsuit built on 2015 findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the UN World Health Organization, which classified Roundup’s main ingredient glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, causing the state of California to follow suit.
“We are sympathetic to Mr.Johnson and his family,” Monsanto said in a statement promising to appeal the ruling and “continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective and safe tool for farmers and others.”
But Johnson’s attorney Brent Wisner said the verdict “shows the evidence is overwhelming” that the product poses danger.
“When you are right, it is really easy to win,” he said.

Wisner called the ruling the “tip of the spear” of litigation likely to come.
The lawsuit is the first to accuse the product of causing cancer, but observers say a Monsanto defeat likely opens the door to thousands of other claims against the company, which was recently acquired by Germany’s Bayer.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr — an environmental lawyer, son of the late US senator and a member of Johnson’s legal team — hugged Johnson after the verdict.
“The jury sent a message to the Monsanto boardroom that they have to change the way they do business,” said Kennedy, who championed the case publicly.
Partridge said outside the courthouse that Monsanto had no intention of settling the slew of similar cases in the legal queue, saying if anything the verdict would prompt the company to work harder to demonstrate the weed killer is safe.
“It is the most widely used and most widely studied herbicide in the world,” Partridge said. “The verdict today does not change the science.”
Johnson’s team expressed confidence in the verdict, saying the judge in the case had kept out a mountain of more evidence backing their position.
“All the efforts by Monsanto to put their finger in the dike and hold back the science; the science is now too persuasive,” Kennedy said, pointing to “cascading” scientific evidence about the health dangers of Roundup.
“You not only see many people injured, you see the corruption of public officials, the capture of agencies that are supposed to protect us from pollution and the falsification of science,” Kennedy said.
“In many ways, American democracy and our justice system was on trial in this case.”

Before jurors went to deliberate, Johnson’s attorney Brent Wisner asked them to deliver a “day of reckoning” for Monsanto.
“The science finally caught up, where they couldn’t bury it anymore,” Wisner told the jury in closing arguments.
Roundup is Monsanto’s leading product and glyphosate is reportedly the world’s most commonly used weed killer.
“The Johnson v Monsanto verdict is a win for all of humanity and all life on earth,” said Zen Honeycutt, founding executive director of non-profit group Moms Across America.
“The majority of our illnesses and losses to soil quality, water, wildlife and marine life are due to toxic chemicals, particularly Monsanto’s most widely used glyphosate herbicides like Roundup and Ranger Pro.”
Despite its denials of any links between its products and ill health effects, Monsanto has already suffered hits to its reputation in light of the controversy.
Records unsealed earlier by a federal court lent credence to Johnson’s claims — internal company emails with regulators suggested Monsanto had ghostwritten research later attributed to academics.
Founded in 1901 in St. Louis, Missouri, Monsanto began producing agrochemicals in the 1940s. It was acquired by Bayer for more than $62 billion in June.
Monsanto was one of the companies that produced the defoliant “Agent Orange” — which has been linked to cancer and other diseases — for use by US forces in Vietnam.
The company denies responsibility for how the military used the product.
Monsanto launched Roundup in 1976 and soon thereafter began genetically modifying plants, making some resistant to Roundup.


Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

Updated 30 min 36 sec ago

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

  • Afghan government excluded from all rounds of talks
  • Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1

KABUL: Afghanistan said on Saturday it expects the US to share details of a peace deal with the Taliban before it is signed, having been excluded from all rounds of talks.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has led diplomats through at least nine rounds of talks with members of the armed group in Qatar since last summer.

A deal could pave the way for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and end almost two decades of fighting in the country.

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been left out of the talks because of objections from the Taliban, which views his regime as a puppet of the West.

The current round of discussions has been described as crucial because, according to present and former Taliban officials, both parties are expected to soon sign a deal.

“The Afghan government expects that it (agreement) will be shared before it is finalized for signing,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, told Arab News.

He said Kabul could not say when the deal would be signed, and that troops’ departure would be condition-based and not based on a timeline set by the Taliban.

“Well, force reduction will be based on conditions, the terrorist threat is potential and we must fight it together for our common safety and in order to prevent any major terrorist attacks on the world’s capitals. 

“We must deny terrorists from holding free ground in Afghanistan and turning it into a safe haven. The presence of some forces, and continued and meaningful support to the Afghan security and defense forces, will be key to our success.”

The Taliban wants all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within a set timetable and, in return, the group says it will not allow Afghan soil to be used against any foreign country or US interests.

Afghan and US officials have warned against a total pullout of troops because, they argue, the Taliban will try to regain power by force and the country will slide back into chaos after troops leave.

But some say a continued presence will prolong the conflict, as neighboring powers oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and see it as a trigger for extremism.

The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment about media reports, which cited the group’s former and current officials as saying that a deal with Washington was imminent.

“We have an agreement on a timeframe for the withdrawal,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman for the Qatar talks, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. “Discussions are now focused on its implementation mechanism. We have had general discussions today,” he added, referring to current discussions in Doha. “Tomorrow, we shall have discussions on the implementation part.”

Another Taliban spokesman said the top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, had taken part in the current talks which, according to some observers, showed the importance of the discussions and the possibility of a final deal.

Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of a crucial and controversial presidential poll in Afghanistan. 

Ghani, who is standing for re-election, says the polls are his priority. Some politicians believe that peace will have to come first and that the vote will have to be delayed.

Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as an adviser to Ghani, said the Taliban and US were racing against time as any delay would damage trust between the two and prompt the Taliban to fight for another five years.

“Because of this both sides are doing their utmost to sign the deal, delay the polls and begin an intra-Afghan dialogue like Oslo,” he told Arab News.