Monsanto files listing prominent pro- and anti-herbicide public figures, initially revealed by French media, included “stakeholders in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as regarding stakeholders related to EU institutions,” AFP reported citing Bayer’s statement on Tuesday. The company added that it is currently trying to determine whether similar lists exist in other states and hired a law firm for this purpose.
Earlier in May, French media reported that around 200 journalists, politicians, and scientists were named in the filing, created by PR firm FleishmanHillard on behalf of Monsanto. The list, which covered the personalities’ views on herbicides and GMO, whether they could be further influenced and reportedly included a lot of personal data, was initially thought to exist only in France, before Bayer admitted that people in other countries might also have been targeted.
“[We have] decided with the agency to end the collaboration in the areas of communication and public affairs for the time being,” the German pharmaceutical giant said referring to Monsanto’s PR firm FleishmanHillard.
Apart from the PR scandal, Bayer has inherited thousands of lawsuits over the weed killer since acquiring Monsanto in a $63 billion deal last year. After the latest verdict that found Roundup weed killer liable for causing cancer, Bayer stock crashed to a seven-year low last week and has only slightly recovered since then.French news agencies and outlets, including AFP and Le Monde, filed complaints to French regulators as some of their journalists were named in the dossier. France has already opened an investigation into the case.
Bayer announces probe on ‘Monsanto file’ gathered to sway influential people on herbicides
Bayer, who acquired the controversial agrochemical business last year, said on Sunday that the decision to commission the independent review came after its own internal investigation into the matter. It added that it understood the concerns raised over the week.
“This is not the way Bayer seeks dialogue with society and stakeholders. We apologize for this behavior,” the company said. However, it maintained that in the company’s eyes, there was nothing illicit about the way such lists were compiled.
The complaint that Monsanto had illegally compiled a dossier of influential journalists, media publications, and politicians was initially made by the French daily, Le Monde. The paper said one of its journalists was among 200 names on the dossier, who would then be targeted by Monsanto lobbyists in a bid to sway their views on glyphosate-based herbicides. A complaint was then made to French police under the charge that the list of personal information was made “by fraudulent, unfair or illicit means.”
Le Monde said the lists were seen by the paper and France 2 after being leaked by a source inside the St. Louis-based PR and lobbying firm, Fleishman-Hillard. Bayer initially told the paper that is was unable to “concretely identify the document,” now dubbed in the media as the ‘Monsanto file.’
The French investigation is the latest in a string of legal woes inherited by Bayer, who have seen their share value plummet by almost 40 percent since taking over Monsanto. Last August, a US court orderedMonsanto to pay $289 million in compensation to a California groundskeeper, after they ruled that years of him using Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup contributed to his cancer. The ruling has opened up Bayer to thousands of other legal cases and 11,000 other Roundup-linked suits are currently making their way through the US courts.
In April, a French court ruled that Monsanto was liable for causing the neurological damages of a farmer, who accidentally inhaled fumes from its Lasso weedkiller in 2004. Arguing that the company gave insufficient warnings on its label, Paul Francois is seeking €1 million ($1.1 million) in damages.
Bayer bets on ‘silver bullet’ defense in Monsanto Roundup cancer litigation
The company points to a US regulatory agency’s provision that the herbicide is not a public health risk. On Wednesday, Bayer said it will argue that the lawsuits, which are brought under state law, conflict with guidance from a federal agency, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Back in 1985, the watchdog labeled glyphosate a carcinogen, reversing its position later in 1991. Last month, the EPA reaffirmed prior guidance saying that glyphosate is not a carcinogen and not a risk to public health when used in accordance with its current label.“We have very strong arguments that the claims here are preempted… and the recent EPA registration decision is an important aspect of that defense,” said William Hoffman, one of Bayer’s lawyers.Under the legal doctrine of preemption, state law claims are barred if they conflict with federal law.
According to Adam Zimmerman, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, preemption is generally regarded as a “silver bullet defense” because it stops claims across the board.
Zimmerman and three other legal experts nevertheless said that Bayer faces a big hurdle convincing appeals courts that the EPA determination on glyphosate shields it from state law claims.
ALSO ON RT.COMBayer beware! Monsanto found guilty of poisoning French farmerThey cited a 2005 US Supreme Court ruling that the EPA’s approval of a product does not necessarily bar state law claims. The experts also said that the ruling, Bates v Dow Agrosciences, gives broad leeway to juries to decide if such claims should proceed.
Judges in the three Roundup cases that have gone to trial against Monsanto all dismissed the company’s preemption argument, citing the 2005 ruling.
“In light of the Bates decision, it’s going to be an uphill battle for the company to win on preemption on appeal,” said Zimmerman.
The pharmaceutical giant’s chances of success will increase significantly if the Supreme Court takes up the Roundup appeals, said Lars Noah, a law professor at the University of Florida.
Since 2005, the high court has decided at least three preemption cases in favor of companies, none of which involved the EPA.
ALSO ON RT.COMBayer announces probe on ‘Monsanto file’ gathered to sway influential people on herbicides“The Bates decision by now sticks out like a sore thumb,” Noah told Reuters, adding: “Bayer has more than enough ammunition in recent Supreme Court cases to show the trial court judges got it wrong.”
On Monday, a US jury awarded $2 billion in punitive damages to a California couple after concluding that Roundup weed killer caused their cancer and that Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, failed to warn them of the health risks.
That was the third time since August 2018 that a US jury has found glyphosate to be a cause of cancer. Bayer is currently facing a total of 11,200 US cases over Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate, which is the most popular weed killer in the US.