First, let’s say a big, collective “Thank you.”
Thank you to the 12 jurors who listened attentively and critically, during long days of testimony, then deliberated with care, and ultimately did the right thing.
Thank you to the lawyers who invested countless hours in investigative work and trial preparation, and who argued rationally and intelligently on behalf of the plaintiff, science and ethics.
Thank you to those media outlets and advocacy organizations who covered the case, pored over the “Monsanto Papers” and took seriously their obligation to inform the public.
But most of all, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the plaintiff in the Dewayne Johnson v. Monsanto case. For his persistence in getting to the bottom of what caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. For his bravery in going up against one of the most powerful corporations in the world.
And for his refusal to give up, no matter the toll on his family, and on his failing health.
As our director, Ronnie Cummins, said in an interview this week about the trial, and about Monsanto’s corruption and deception:
“We talk about these things in the abstract. But when you see the face of a victim, it literally brings these issues home.”
Day of reckoning: ‘guilty’ on all counts
Media outlets across the globe lit up on Friday, August 10, when jury members filed into a San Francisco courtroom and handed a piece of paper to Judge Suzanne Bolano who read off, one by one, their answers to each of the 17 questions the jurors were asked.
The jury’s decision was unanimous: Monsanto was guilty of manufacturing and selling a product that caused Johnson’s cancer. What’s more, the company knew its product could cause cancer—and yet it intentionally hid that fact from Johnson and the public.
Johnson’s victory is a victory not just for one man and his family, but for anyone who has fought the good fight against Monsanto, including victims still living and those who have died.
It’s also a beginning, not an end. There are thousands of lawsuits already teed up against Monsanto. The next trial is set to take place in October, in Monsanto’s backyard, St. Louis, Missouri. In all, so far, there are about 4,000 plaintiffs lined up to sue Monsanto. And Friday’s victory in San Francisco will likely empower tens of thousands more victims to come forth.
Let’s hope that the old adage, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” will hold true as these lawsuits roll out.
Of course, that’s not the way Monsanto, and its new owner, Germany-based Bayer, see it. Bayer, which has its own dark history of selling poisons, including bee-killing neonicotinoids, wasted no time claiming that Monsanto’s flagship Roundup weedkiller is “safe.” But shareholders weren’t so sure—they sent Bayer stocks into a freefall after the guilty verdict. And with good reason, given the number of pending lawsuits against Monsanto, plus those yet to be filed.
Barron’s this week quoted an industry analyst who said that Monsanto’s new parent company is probably experiencing a heavy dose of “Bayer’s remorse.” Michael Leacock, an analyst with Frankfurt-based Mainfirst Bank, told Barron’s:
“If a settlement were to emerge, following more lost suits, the total cost, in our view, could easily reach USD10bn (assuming USD 1m per plaintiff, and twice the current number of plaintiffs) or about 11 percent of the current market cap of Bayer.”
That’s a big hit for a company that shelled out $66 billion to buy Monsanto.
Monsanto also came out swinging after the verdict was announced, no surprise there. In a statement, Vice-President Scott Partridge wrote:
Glyphosate is not the answer. Glyphosate does not cause cancer. The jury got it wrong. We will appeal the jury’s opinion and continue to vigorously defend glyphosate, which is an essential tool for farmers and others. We are confident science will prevail upon appeal.
Partridge is of course referring to “Monsanto science,” the kind that the biotech industry manufactures, in quantities rivaling those of its toxic chemicals, and uses to attack legitimate studies and the scientists who conduct them.
Monsanto, which became a unit of Bayer AG in June, has spent decades convincing consumers, farmers, politicians and regulators to ignore mounting evidence linking its glyphosate-based herbicides to cancer and other health problems. The company has employed a range of tactics – some drawn from the same playbook used by the tobacco industry in defending the safety of cigarettes—to suppress and manipulate scientific literature, harass journalists and scientists who did not parrot the company’s propaganda, and arm-twist and collude with regulators. Indeed, one of Monsanto’s lead defense attorneys in the San Francisco case was George Lombardi, whose resumé boasts of his work defending big tobacco.
Regulatory agencies on trial, too
Friday’s verdict isn’t just an indictment of Monsanto and Bayer. It’s also a scathing indictment of regulatory agencies in countries around the world, and especially of the agencies here in the U.S.—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration—all of which have failed miserably at their jobs: to protect our health and home.
As Cummins says in his interview, we need to make the most of this victory against Monsanto by ramping up pressure on our politicians and government agencies to clean up their acts, and do their jobs: “There’s no way to stay a-political. We’ve all got to get involved in politics.”
In the meantime, Johnson and other victims, and all of those who care about the future of food and farming, will continue to take our case the courts, where we’re finally beginning to reap some rewards. Friday’s verdict followed on the heels of a federal court ruling requiring the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxin especially damaging to kids. The agency had banned the pesticide under the Obama administration, only to have the ban overturned when Trump’s EPA took over.
And, we’ll keep giving thanks—to all those who have been fighting this battle for decades, and who are committed to seeing it through until corporations and governments stop the insane practice of poisoning our food and environment.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA)
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