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.


Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

Muslims attend Friday Prayers at the Great Mosque of Al Azhar in Jakarta, Indonesia, as government eases restrictions amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 5, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 June 2020

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

  • Mosque capacity reduced to half, with health protocols in place
  • Jakarta remains center of the pandemic in Indonesia

JAKARTA: Mosques in Jakarta welcomed congregations for Friday prayers for the first time after an 11-week shutdown due to coronavirus curbs as the Indonesian capital began to ease control measures.

“I am grateful I can perform Friday prayers again after almost three months,” Ilham Roni, a worshipper at Cut Meutia Mosque in Central Jakarta, told Arab News.

“As a Jakarta resident, I have been complying with city regulations. Now that we can pray again, I follow the health protocols by maintaining social distance, wearing a facial mask and washing my hands (before entering the mosque).”

Mosques are opened by a caretaker 30 minutes before prayer starts and are closed 30 minutes after the conclusion of the congregational prayer.

Caretakers at Al I’thisom Mosque in South Jakarta have been preparing since Tuesday, even before Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced on Thursday that the city is extending its COVID-19 restrictions for the third time since measures came into force on April 10.

The capital is easing lockdown curbs in phases, starting with the reopening of places of worship on Friday, although capacity has been halved and strict health protocols put in place.

“We did not know if we would be allowed to reopen the mosque, but we kept preparing to put out markings just in case, and on Thursday we got the confirmation,” one of the mosque caretakers Sumidi, who goes only by one name, told Arab News.

He said the mosque now can only accommodate 400 worshippers out of its normal 1,000 capacity.

Caretakers have put up markings to keep a 1.2-meter distance between worshippers inside the mosque, while in its parking lot, the distance is maintained at 97 cm. Hand-washing facilities have been installed at the entrance.

The governor did not set a fixed date for the extension to end, although the most likely time frame is until the end of June as the city is in a transition mode throughout the month.

Workplaces and businesses with standalone locations can open from June 8, to be followed by non-food retailers in malls and shopping centers from June 15. Recreational parks will be allowed to reopen on June 21.

“Essentially, all activities are allowed to accommodate 50 percent of their normal capacity and by strictly maintaining social distancing measures. The movement of people has to be engineered to meet this criteria,” Baswedan said during a live press conference. “This is the golden rule during the transition phase.”

"If we see a spike in new cases during this phase, the city administration will have to enforce its authority to halt these eased restrictions. It is our ‘emergency brake’ policy,” Baswedan said.

Jakarta remains the center of the pandemic in Indonesia, although infections in the city no longer account for half or more of the national tally, as has been the case since the outbreak was confirmed in Indonesia in early March.

As of June 5, Jakarta accounts for 7,766 cases of infections out of the 29,521 in the national total, with 524 deaths out of 1,770 who have died in the country.

Baswedan said since the introduction of restrictions in mid-March, the city has seen a significant drop in infections and deaths following a peak in mid-April.

But the transition phase depends on the residents’ continued strict compliance with virus-control measures, he said.

“We will evaluate by the end of June. If all indicators are good, we can begin the second phase,” Baswedan said.

“We don’t want to go back to the way it was in the previous month.”