SAN FRANCISCO – After a federal judge rejected a proposed $2 billion settlement for all future claims that Roundup causes cancer, the maker of the widely used weedkiller said it will consider whether to end its sale in the U.S. for residential use.
German-based Bayer AG had proposed to set aside $2 billion to settle future lawsuits by people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being exposed to glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient. Reuters reported that on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco said the company’s proposal, which would have limited future lawsuits against Bayer, was “clearly unreasonable.”
Following the ruling, Bayer said it “will immediately engage with partners to discuss the future of glyphosate-based products in the U.S. residential market." The company said it will continue to sell Roundup to U.S. farmers.
“Removing glyphosate from residential use would be a step in the right direction, as most of the cases now pending settlement involved serious exposure from non-farm uses,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Another clear step would be for Bayer to withdraw the pesticide from end-of-season use on food crops, which gave rise to the contamination EWG has found on oat products, in hummus, and other food.”
“But unless this cancer-causing weedkiller is banned by the Environmental Protection Agency or Bayer cuts its losses and stops making it, people will continue to be exposed and risk serious illness,” Cook said. “And the legal and financial disaster stemming from one of the worst business decisions ever made will remain.”
Glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the world, was invented and marketed by Monsanto until 2018. When Bayer bought the company for $63 billion, it inherited liability for about 125,000 claims by people who say the products caused their cancer. The company has resolved all but 30,000 of those claims.
In 2018 and 2019, juries in three separate cases found that glyphosate causes cancer and that Monsanto covered up evidence of its health risk for decades. In 2017, California added glyphosate to its Proposition 65 registry of chemicals known to cause cancer.
On Thursday, shares of Bayer dropped by as much as 5 percent following news of Chhabra’s rejection of the settlement proposal.
A 2015 EWG analysis mapped the year-to-year growth in glyphosate use on American farmland from 1992 to 2012. According to the Department of Agriculture, in 2014, approximately 240 million pounds of glyphosate were sprayed in the U.S. As a result of widespread spraying, glyphosate has now been found to contaminate air, water and soil across vast expanses of the U.S. It also shows up in the food Americans eat every day.
Biomonitoring studies in a number of states found glyphosate in the bodies of children and pregnant women. According to initial data from a study in Indiana, women who were more heavily exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy were more likely to give birth to premature babies who weighed less than average.
Although the vast majority of glyphosate is applied to genetically modified corn and soybeans, it is increasingly sprayed on oats just before harvest as a drying agent. Glyphosate kills the crop, drying it out so it can be harvested earlier than if the plant were allowed to die naturally. This allows easier harvesting but also increases the likelihood that the pesticide makes it into food.
Two separate rounds of laboratory tests commissioned last year by EWG found glyphosate in nearly every sample of popular oat-based cereals and other oat-based food marketed to children. The brands in which glyphosate was detected included several cereals and breakfast bars made by General Mills and Quaker.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.