US Roundup payout buoys Aust litigants

A decision by the German maker of the controversial weedkiller Roundup to pay out almost $16 billion to settle thousands of US lawsuits has given hope to litigants in Australia. Maurice Blackburn is leading one of a number of Australia class actions against Bayer claiming the herbicide causes certain types of cancers, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The law firm’s national head of class actions Andrew Watson said the US settlement had no direct impact on the Australian cases because it was made without admission of liability.

“But obviously it is very welcome news that the company has decided to settle the US litigation,” Watson told ABC television on Thursday. “What we would urge and hope is that the company takes a similarly sensible approach to the litigation on behalf of those Australians who have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of their exposure.”

Drugs and pesticides maker Bayer agreed overnight to pay up to US$10.9 billion (A$15.8 billion) to settle thousands of US lawsuits claiming Roundup caused cancer, after more than a year of talks. The legal disputes over Roundup were inherited with Bayer’s US$63 billion takeover of Monsanto in 2018.

The company will make a payment of US$8.8 billion to US$9.6 billion to resolve the current Roundup litigation, including an allowance expected to cover unresolved claims. It will also use US$1.25 billion to support a separate class agreement to address potential future litigation.

“Sadly, we have had situations in the past where litigation has resolved in the United States and then Australian victims have been made to wait years, and millions of dollars, sometimes tens of millions of dollars, has been expended in legal fees before a resolution can be reached,” Watson said. “It’s to be hoped that Bayer takes a much more sensible approach in this instance and that Australian victims can participate quickly in a sensible resolution the same way the US victims have been able to.”

Bayer has denied claims Roundup or its active ingredient glyphosate causes cancer, saying decades of independent studies have shown the product is safe for human use. Monsanto began selling Roundup in 1974, and while the formulation is no longer patent-protected, Roundup remains widely available.

Bayer has repeatedly said Roundup is safe and important to farmers who use the herbicide in combination with the company’s genetically modified seeds. In May, the Federal Court gave the go-ahead for the Maurice Blackburn class action to be heard before any other class action about Roundup. The firm alleges Monsanto was negligent in selling glyphosate-based Roundup products “which they knew (or ought to have known) could cause cancer”.

Last year, Victorian landscape gardener Michael Ogalirolo, 54, launched legal action to sue Bayer after he developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma. In a writ filed in the Victorian Supreme Court, he said had regularly used Roundup between 1997 and 2019 and now suffered chest pain, shortness of breath, depression and anxiety.

“The defendant knew or ought to have known the use of Roundup products were dangerous for the plaintiff to use and capable of causing serious injury … in particular causing DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, cancer, kidney disease, infertility and nerve damage, among other devastating illnesses,” the writ said.

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