Opinion: Will Bayer rue Monsanto purchase?

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Ironically I was on some R-and-R in St. Louis, headquarters to Monsanto, when a California jury dropped the mother of all H-bombs on Bayer’s newest acquisition:  Monsanto’s flagship weed killer Roundup contributed to high school groundsman Dewayne Johnson’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Put bluntly the jury ruled Roundup causes cancer and it awarded terminally-ill Johnson $39 million in compensatory and $250 million in punitive damages.  Yup $289 million total.

Bayer, which purchased Monsanto just two months ago, has taken a massive financial hit, losing more than 10 percent of share value.

So how did Monsanto and Bayer lose?

In part, as I originally blogged last month, Johnson’s lawyers were able to submit evidence that refuted Monsanto’s core defense that Roundup was 100 percent safe.

Johnson attorney Brent Wisner’s case was that Monsanto scientists were aware of the cancer risks of  Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate more than 40 years ago but did everything in its power to hide that fact from the public, including colluding with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Those who have reported on Monsanto in recent years should not be surprised.  Monsanto’s roll out of dicamba was a disaster for farmers.

And there was Monsanto’s self-inflected wound over genetically modified cotton royalties with India.

What all these cases seem to have in common is a rush for profits clouding judgment.

On the outside, Monsanto attorneys remained relatively calm.

A written statement proclaimed:

“Today’s decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews — and conclusions by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world — support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr Johnson’s cancer.”

Monsanto is appealing the ruling.

But inside the walls of Monsanto HQ folk must be freaking.

Do the math.

Reportedly there are as many as 5,000 other Roundup cancer cases out there.  Let’s be conservative and say Bayer only loses half of them.  We’ll even drop the average judgment down to $100 million.  That’s $250 billion.

Yeah Bayer has a problem.  Certainly it doesn’t have that kind of capital lying around.  I would expect that if cancer case losses begin to pile up that Bayer might consider creating a spin off/subsidiary company, put all the cancer liabilities into the new outfit and then have that company declare bankruptcy.  Rotten yes, but it might withstand court scrutiny.

 
About Dave Dickey

Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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