ASuperior Court jury in California on August 10 granted Dewayne Johnson $289 million in damages from Monsanto for its Roundup weed killer having caused his cancer. This is the first of more than 5,000 lawsuits Monsanto faces for its glyphosate-based weed killers. Johnson's case, filed in 2016, was fast-tracked because of the speed at which his non-Hodgkin lymphoma was progressing, according to Reuters.
The San Francisco jury took three days to deliver its verdict. Jury members agreed the company should have labeled Roundup as hazardous. One of Johnson’s lawyers, Brent Wisner, says in a statement that Monsanto knew “glyphosate and specifically Roundup could cause cancer,” according to company records.
After the trial, Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy, said the documents had been “taken completely out of context,” according to The Guardian. He added that the trial doesn't alter “the four-plus decades of safe use and science behind the product.” The company will be appealing the verdict.
The herbicide is available in 130 countries and can be used on more than 100 crops. Further, glyphosate has been labeled as “probably carcinogenic to humans” since 2015 by the World Health Organization’s cancer arm. Partridge proclaimed the organization, whose results were central to the trial, as “having been corrupted,” according to The Guardian.
Johnson used two Monsanto products, Roundup and Ranger Pro, in his job as a pest control manager for a San Francisco Bay Area school district. He applied large volumes of the herbicide to school grounds, sometimes winding up covered in the product due to heavy winds. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, glyphosate is safe if used according to its label.
A lawyer for Monsanto, George Lombardi, says Johnson’s cancer type takes several years to appear and must have started before he was employed by the county, according to the Associated Press.
According to the Associated Press, Johnson told reporters at a press conference following the judgment, “This case is way bigger than me. I hope it gets the attention that it needs.”
Monsanto was acquired by the German company Bayer in a $66 billion dollar deal completed in June this year. In response to the verdict, Bayer’s stocks have fallen by 12 percent today (August 13) in Frankfurt, reports Bloomberg. Bayer may have to shell out a hefty amount in damages for its recent purchase when other cases against Monsanto go to trial. Between 2 percent to 3 percent of its earnings are credited to Roundup, according to Bloomberg. Additionally, Monsanto earns more money from its genetically engineered, Roundup-resistant seeds than from the weed killer alone.