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US judge rejects Bayer's Roundup cancer lawsuits plan

May 27, 2021

The German chemical giant may now consider pulling the weedkiller from sale, but maintains that Roundup's main ingredient glyphosate is safe.

Roundup weed killer
Bayer will review the future of glyphosate-based weedkillers in the US marketImage: picture-alliance/Photoshot

United States District Judge Vincent Chhabria on Wednesday rejected a $2 billion (€1.64 billion) plan set up by German firm Bayer to settle future lawsuits over its controversial Roundup weed killer product.

Thousands of Roundup users have claimed the product gave them non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a type of blood cancer.

What did the judge say about the plan?

Chhabria said parts of the plan are "clearly unreasonable" and claimed the proposal could not be salvaged by "mere tweaks."

"The settlement proposed by these attorneys would accomplish a lot for [Bayer-owned] Monsanto," the judge said in a wrriten ruling. "It would accomplish far less for the Roundup users who have not been diagnosed with NHL — and not nearly as much as the attorneys pushing this deal contend."

Bayer HQ in Leverkusen
Bayer, which is headquartered in the German city of Leverkusen, acquired Monsanto in 2018Image: picture-alliance/D. Kalker

What did the Bayer plan entail?

The proposed class action settlement by Bayer would affect Roundup users who become sick with NHL in the future. The plan would have provided the users with up to $200,000 if they were diagnosed with the disease.

It was designed to be set up for the next four years.

Chhabria noted that it may take a decade or longer for Roundup users to be diagnosed with NHL.

"Bayer is a massive wealthy company and it continues to make money off Roundup sales," the judge said.

What did Bayer say about the decision?

The German company said it would seek other options to limit future Roundup lawsuits.

"We have legal and commercial options that together will achieve a similar result in mitigating future litigation risk, and we will pursue then as quickly as possible," Bayer said in a statement after the judge's decision.

The company also said it would review the future of its Roundup weed killers in the US and reassess its strategy to settle around 30,000 ongoing claims from Roundup users who say the product made them sick.

In addition, the company would seek authorization from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to put a link on Roundup labels that would inform customers of research about the product.

Bayer plans to find glyphosate alternative

Why is Roundup so controversial?

Critics believe glyphosate, an chemical used in Roundup, is linked to cancer. 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer said in 2015 that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Bayer and Monsanto have denied any wrongdoing and claim studies show Roundup and glyphosate are safe for human use. The EPA said in 2020 that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

Bayer said in June it would commit $9.6 billion to settle existing cancer claims from Roundup users.

Bayer is Germany's largest pharmaceutical company in terms of national sales. 

wd/rt (AFP, Reuters)