It is probably wrong to describe anything that cost nearly $US11 billion as frivolous, but I have to think how much good could have been done in the world with the $11 billion Bayer paid to settle what in my view were essentially frivolous US-based class action law suits claiming that Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides were potentially causing cancer in humans.
Bayer Global figured it was the best business decision to make the payments, but it is unfortunate and sad that such a litigious society left the company with limited options — pay the money, cut your losses, and get on with life.
The payout, announced in late June, according to the company closes the books “to approximately 75 per cent of the current Roundup litigation involving approximately 125,000 filed and un-filed claims” that maintained exposure to Roundup (glyphosate) made people sick — more specifically caused cancer such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Apparently many of these claims were filed in response to TV advertising by law firms looking to build a class-action lawsuit, but provided little or no medical information to back up the claims. Bayer could have spent years in court but decided to settle these claims with an agreement saying, now and forever hold your peace.
DIFFERENT APPROACH IN CANADA
It was noted that this $11 billion agreement pertains only to U.S. lawsuits. There are separate lawsuits underway or pending in Canada, but the company is prepared to follow these through the courts if necessary. “We are not contemplating a settlement of the Canadian cases related to glyphosate,” said a Bayer Canada statement. “And although there are some similarities between the U.S. and Canadian legal systems, they are in fact quite different, including with respect to damage awards. Very different considerations apply in Canada. ”
As it announced the payout or settlement, the company quickly pointed out it was a business decision, and fully maintained its support for the health and safety of Roundup products.
“…the extensive body of science indicates that Roundup does not cause cancer, and therefore, is not responsible for the illnesses alleged in this litigation,” Werner Baumann, Chief Executive Officer of Bayer said in a statement. “We stand strongly behind our glyphosate-based herbicides, which are among the most rigorously studied products of their kind, and four decades of science support their safety and that they are not carcinogenic.” Indeed, in its Interim Registration Review Decision, issued in January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accurately concluded that it “did not identify any human health risks from exposure to glyphosate.”
Similarly, the Bayer Canada statement said:
“…we believe in the safety of our products. It is worth keeping in mind that in January 2019, Health Canada completed an in-depth regulatory review of glyphosate, for which the agency engaged 20 of its own scientists who were not involved its earlier 2017 re-evaluation decision. The agency “left no stone unturned” in conducting this review. The outcome was a reaffirmation by Health Canada of its conclusion that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk. We believe in the thoroughness and integrity of this process.”
EXPERT PANEL TO BE APPOINTED
For as much benefit that Roundup and gylphosate, first developed by Monsanto in the early 1970s, has brought to agriculture and crop production around the world over the past 40 years, it has almost been a constant fight for Monsanto and now Bayer to defend first the marketing and more recently the safety of glyphosate products.
And it is not that I have this unbridled, blind trust in Monsanto or Bayer that they would never spin the facts or numbers to suit their own needs — a couple times I have golfed with some of these people. I know how they operate.
But I do have a pretty solid faith in the integrity of regulatory agencies such as Health Canada, the US Environmental Agency and other agencies around the world — representing hundreds of scientists — who over the years keep coming to the same conclusion that proper use of glyphosate is safe for humans and the environment. I just find it hard/impossible to imagine there could be some type of conspiracy involving this many researchers in so many jurisdictions to collectively and deliberately skew research results.
One final note to this enormous Bayer agreement involves the appointment of a five member independent panel of experts/scientists, agreeable to all interests, who will review all research and studies related to the health and safety aspects of glyphosate and prepare a final and binding report on their findings. The panel will look at the research to determine if there is any link between glyphosate use and risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. All interests have agreed to accept the findings of this independent panel expected to lay the issue to rest once and for all.
Pierre Petelle, president and CEO at CropLife Canada considered the creation of this panel as a smart move. “It is unique to have the role of this panel included in the language of the settlement,” says Petelle. “It is a component that sets the stage for a scientific outcome to an issue that has so far been treated as anything but science based in the United States. I think it is a very elegant approach to get an expert panel to settle the issue once and for all now and in the future.”
The review is expected to take several years, all parties have agreed to accept and live with the results. Stay tuned.
Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]