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
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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.


Unwanted Afghan refugees pin hopes on Pakistan’s Imran Khan

Updated 49 min 48 sec ago
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Unwanted Afghan refugees pin hopes on Pakistan’s Imran Khan

  • Pakistan is home to an estimated 2.4 million people who have fled Afghanistan
  • Under Pakistan’s constitution, anyone born in the country after 1951 has the right to citizenship
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Shahzad Alam has proposed marriage to several women and been rejected each time for the same reason, he says: their discovery that he is not the Pakistani shoe shop owner they thought he was, but an Afghan refugee.
His romantic future could be given a boost by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has ignited a national debate with a controversial vow to grant citizenship to Afghan refugees born in Pakistan — potentially creating more than a million new citizens.
Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world, home to an estimated 2.4 million registered and undocumented people who have fled Afghanistan, some as far back as the Soviet invasion of 1979.
But many Pakistanis view them with suspicion, accusing them of spurring militancy and criminality, and calling for them to be sent home.
Under Pakistan’s constitution, anyone born in the country after 1951 has the right to citizenship. But feeling against the refugees is so strong that no leader has dared take moves to implement the policy — Khan’s promise is the first time any Pakistani premier has made such a vow.
Refugees greeted his words joyfully. Twitter users joked that Khan could now win elections in Afghanistan. “May God bless Imran Khan,” Alam told AFP.
But the announcement has also prompted a national outcry, with columnists claiming he had opened a “Pandora’s Box.” Heads of Pakistan’s main opposition parties quickly condemned it.
As the debate continues in the country’s newspapers and on social media, salesman Alam’s life remains in limbo.
Alam speaks with a Pakistani accent, dresses in Pakistani fashions, and has lived all his life in the northwestern city of Peshawar where he was born after his parents fled Afghanistan in 1979.
Although he says women have asked him to propose marriage in the past, the relationship would always “end the moment we introduce ourselves as Afghan.”

Forced repatriations
The United Nations says there are 1.4 million Afghans registered as refugees in Pakistan, and estimates that some 74 percent were born there.
Many live in camps, while others have created lives for themselves in Pakistan’s cities, marrying and raising children, opening shops and supporting themselves.
In one Peshawar bazaar, thousands of Afghans could be seen running hundreds of shops bursting with local and Chinese goods, fresh fruits, and vegetables — visible signs of their economic contributions.
“I feel like I am in my own village, my own country,” said Ashiqullah Jan, a 43-year-old refugee.
But their status has always been temporary, with deadlines set for them to leave Pakistan repeatedly pushed back as the conflict in Afghanistan worsens.
Many analysts predict security will continue to deteriorate in 2019 despite a renewed push for peace talks.
In 2016 a wave of forced repatriations from Pakistan to Afghanistan sparked fears of a humanitarian crisis. The decision by Khan is a significant departure from such policies.
“When you are born in America, you get the American passport... so why not here? How cruel it is for them,” he said when announcing the measure last September.
Much of the outcry prompted by his words has been centered on security fears. Pakistan has fought a long and bloody war with militancy, with the army often blaming extremists based in Afghanistan and claiming insurgents hide in refugee camps.
Khan has reiterated his support for the measure, but faced with the outcry has not yet formally taken it to parliament.
Analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai warned that even if the prime minister — who has developed a reputation for U-turns since coming to power last July — does push the policy through, implementing it will take time.
“It won’t be easy to give them citizenship or to develop a consensus on the issue in parliament or in the country,” he said.

“I was born here”
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has welcomed the move.
“So many of the young Afghan refugees were born here and they only know Pakistan,” country representative Ruvendrini Menikdiwela told AFP.
Most Pakistanis who spoke to AFP in the bazaars of Peshawar, whose proximity to the Afghan border has made it a center for refugees, remained staunchly opposed.
The government should send the refugees home “as soon as possible,” 42-year-old Rehman Gul told AFP.
Azeem Khan, a fresh produce seller, was one of the few Pakistanis supporting the move — but his stance sparked a heated argument among his customers.
Refugee Khayesta Khan, one of the customers, told AFP there was “nothing left” in Afghanistan but “the Taliban and Daesh and bombs.”
“I was born here... Pakistan is my country and I do not want to leave it,” he said as the fiery debate subsided.