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Bayer abandons key provision in glyphosate settlement plan

Two weeks after agreeing to pay up to $9.6 billion to resolve thousands of cancer lawsuits against glyphosate, seed and ag-chemical giant Bayer is still looking for a way to handle future litigation against the weedkiller. A proposal to appoint a panel of experts to decide if glyphosate is carcinogenic — a pivotal question for cases filed in coming years — died on Wednesday following criticism from the federal judge handling the lawsuits.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said on Monday that he was “skeptical of the propriety and fairness” of the proposal and questioned whether it was constitutional. Bayer agreed to a motion by lawyers for glyphosate plaintiffs on Wednesday that it withdraw the language on future claims.

“Mass tort settlements like this are complex and may require some adjustments along the way,” said Bayer. In a statement, the company, based in Germany, said it “remains strongly committed to a resolution that simultaneously addresses both the current litigation on reasonable terms and a viable solution to manage and resolve potential future litigation.”

Glyphosate, the most widely used weedkiller in the world, is the main ingredient in Bayer’s Roundup herbicide. The UN International Agency for Research on Cancer said in 2015 that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The EPA said in an interim decision early this year that the chemical poses no threat to human health when used as directed and is unlikely to cause cancer. Bayer has vigorously defended the safety of glyphosate. Bayer purchased Monsanto, the original marketer of glyphosate, for $63 billion in 2018.

On June 24, after months of negotiations, Bayer said it would pay from $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to settle approximately 75%  of the 125,000 lawsuits against Roundup, including 95% of cases set for trial.

For future cases, according to the company’s plan, a panel of scientists would determine if glyphosate causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer, and the decision would be binding on allegations that could be made in court. Some $1.25 billion would be set aside to pay for cancer research, cancer diagnosis, and assistance to people who become ill while waiting for the expert panel’s decision.

Juries awarded large sums of money to plaintiffs in the three glyphosate cancer cases that have gone to trial. The litigation has clouded Bayer’s financial outlook since it bought Monsanto. When it announced the settlement agreements two weeks ago, Bayer said it would be less costly to resolve the lawsuits than to face “growing numbers of plaintiffs, upwards of 20 trials per year and uncertain jury outcomes, and associated reputational and business impacts.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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