After setting aside nearly $10 billion to settle over 125,000 claims from victims who alleged that Bayer’s flagship weed killer Roundup gave them cancer, the corporation has set aside another $2 billion for those whose cancer has not yet been diagnosed, but could be attributed to exposure to the product.
News of the agreement arrived in the first days of February and largely closes a long and painful saga for thousands of families across the country. It does not, however, bring comfort to those who may have to file for payment under its terms in the future. Roundup, and its key ingredient glyphosate, will remain available for sale under the agreement with Bayer placing a link on the label for consumers to visit in order to find more information about glyphosate and its possible adverse effects on human health.
The fact that Bayer, as well as glyphosate’s original creator Monsanto, have gone to extraordinary lengths to control the public and legislative conversations around glyphosate leaves much in question about what information the corporation will make available at that link. Bayer has maintained throughout the entirety of the litigation that glyphosate is safe and that the cancers attributed to it were caused by other factors in the victims lives. Study after study has been cited and used to prop up the corporate narrative that glyphosate poses no risk to human life.
Yet, it is because of the lawsuit brought by California school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson that we know how far the two companies were willing to go protect their profits. Prior to Bayer’s $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto, Mr. Johnson sued Monsanto after he developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As a groundskeeper, Mr. Johnson interacted with Roundup on an almost daily basis and, at times, came in direct contact with the chemical as a result of spills or refilling his equipment.
The Johnson case was not the first to lay the blame for a cancer diagnosis at Roundup’s doorstep, but it was the first to be allowed to question the source of the “science” Monsanto was using in its defense. In the end, perhaps to no one’s surprise, it was found that most of the studies Monsanto cited were bought, paid for, and in some cases even conducted by Monsanto itself. The result was a $284 million punitive award for Mr. Johnson. Future litigation would lessen that amount, but the veil had been pierced.
The fact that $2 billion has been set aside for Roundup cancer cases we don’t yet know about should have anyone with a bottle of the weed killer in their garage eyeing it carefully. It may still be available for sale and the company behind it may still say that it’s safe, but over $12 billion seems to have something else to say about the matter entirely.