Roundup weedkiller was a substantial factor in a California man’s cancer, a jury found Tuesday in the first phase of a trial that could help determine the fate of hundreds of similar lawsuits.
The unanimous verdict by the six-person jury in federal court in San Francisco came in a lawsuit filed against Roundup’s manufacturer, agribusiness giant Monsanto. Edwin Hardeman, 70, was the second plaintiff to go to trial out of thousands nationwide who claim the weedkiller causes cancer.
Monsanto says studies have established that Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is safe.
Hardeman’s trial is before a different judge and may be more significant. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria is overseeing hundreds of Roundup lawsuits and has deemed Hardeman’s case and two others “bellwether trials.”
The outcome of such cases can help attorneys decide whether to keep fighting similar lawsuits or settle them. Legal experts said a jury verdict in favor of Hardeman and the other test plaintiffs would give their attorneys a strong bargaining position in any settlement talks for the remaining cases before Chhabria.
The judge had split Hardeman’s trial into two phases. Hardeman’s attorneys first had to convince jurors that using Roundup was a significant factor in his cancer before they could make arguments for damages.
The trial will now proceed to the second phase to determine whether the company is liable and, if so, for how much.
Hardeman declined to comment outside court.
“This has been a long time coming for Mr. Hardeman,” said one of his attorneys, Jennifer Moore. “He’s very pleased he had his day in court, and we’re looking forward to Phase 2.”
Many government regulators have rejected a link between cancer and glyphosate. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that the chemical is safe.
Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year, said in a statement after the verdict that the company continues to “believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer.”
“We are confident the evidence in Phase 2 will show that Monsanto’s conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman’s cancer,” it said.
Monsanto developed glyphosate in the 1970s, and the weedkiller is sold in more than 160 countries and widely used in the United States.
The herbicide came under increasing scrutiny after the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified it as a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015.
Lawsuits against Monsanto followed. The company has attacked the international research agency’s opinion, calling it an outlier.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says glyphosate is safe for people when used in accordance with label directions.