Monsanto Defends Roundup Studies as Liability Phase Kicks Off

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A day after a unanimous jury found Roundup weed killer caused a California man’s cancer, Monsanto’s lawyers asked jurors Wednesday to set aside their feelings about the controversial company in deciding whether it also knew Roundup was carcinogenic and how much money it should fork over if it did.

“This is not a popularity contest,” and not about whether jurors “love Monsanto,” Monsanto attorney Brian Stekloff said Wednesday. “What the evidence will show is that Monsanto did act responsibly, and it should not be found liable in Phase Two.”

Stekloff’s comment came during opening statements in the second phase of the closely watched trial in San Francisco federal court. After a week of cliffhanger deliberations, the six-person jury on Tuesday found Roundup partly caused plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Now the jury must decide whether Monsanto is liable for his illness and, if it is, how much it owes in damages.

Monsanto insists Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate are safe, citing hundreds of studies finding no link between the product and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and determinations by U.S. and European regulators that glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer.

But Hardeman, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in early 2015 and is now in remission, claims his 26 years of heavy Roundup use between the late 1980s and 2012 caused the disease.

Throughout the first phase of the trial that began Feb. 25, Hardeman’s attorneys tried to prove heavy exposure to Roundup increases the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hardeman’s expert pathologist emphasized Hardeman’s heavy Roundup use and the fact that Hardeman didn’t wear protective clothing or equipment while spraying the herbicide. Hardeman testified he at times breathed the herbicide in after spraying it and that the wind at times blew it back onto him.

Roundup’s product label instructs users to wear protective clothing and equipment like goggles and long-sleeved shirts while spraying Roundup, and to not breathe it in. But because the first phase of the trial was limited to causation, the jury didn’t learn about the safety instructions included on the Roundup label.

It is unclear whether Monsanto will highlight the safety instructions during Phase Two or attempt to show Hardeman disregarded them. But Hardeman’s attorney Aimee Wagstaff, of Andrus Wagstaff in Lakewood, Colorado, appeared to anticipate such an attack Wednesday.

“You’re going to hear Mr. Hardeman say he read the label, and if it had warned of cancer, he would not have used it,” Wagstaff told jurors.

Wagstaff, however, made clear she and her trial team intend to focus on proving Monsanto knew Roundup was carcinogenic but “inflated and manipulated” the science by ghostwriting favorable studies and cozying up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has repeatedly stated glyphosate isn’t carcinogenic.

Monsanto, she said, ghostwrote a key 2000 study showing glyphosate doesn’t cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That study skewed the subsequent literature toward the conclusion that there is no link between glyphosate and the disease, she said, and a Monsanto employee boasted a decade after its publication that the study allowed the company to respond to regulators and to rebut scientific challenges.

“Ghostwriting is intertwined in the science,” Wagstaff said, adding Monsanto “has a pattern of ghostwriting.”

In his own opening statement, Stekloff, with the firm Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz in Washington, said the 2000 study lists Monsanto’s role in the acknowledgements, and countered Wagstaff took out of context a statement by longtime Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer purportedly admitting the company didn’t know if Roundup is safe.

And he rebutted Wagstaff’s remarks that Monsanto never conducted a long-term animal carcinogenicity study on glypohosate and surfactants – soap-like compounds in Roundup that help the herbicide spread over plant surfaces that Wagstaff argued are more carcinogenic than glyphosate alone.

According to Stekloff, Monsanto fed rats surfactants for two years as part of just such a study. But when researchers noticed the surfactants had eaten away at the animals’ gastrointestinal lining, they declined to publish the results.

Both parties agree animals in high-dose test groups are fed glyphosate in amounts that far exceed those to which humans are exposed in the real world. It is unclear how much surfactant rats in the high-dose group were fed as part of Monsanto’s unpublished study.

“[T]hey determined, along with the EPA, that you can’t feed them soap. You’re not going to get real results; these rats are not going to survive,” Stekloff said.

“Monsanto is not hiding behind the EPA,” he said. “Monsanto takes responsibility for its product.”

Hardeman and his wife, Mary Hardeman, are expected to testify Friday when proceedings resume.

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