Behind Bayer’s Tough Defense of Roundup

Sara Randazzo, Jacob Bunge and Ruth Bender reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Bayer AG’s $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto Co. this year made the German drug and chemicals company the world’s biggest supplier of crop seeds and pesticides—and brought it thousands of lawsuits alleging Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide causes cancer.

But Bayer has a history of fighting big-ticket litigation and has seen much worse. So officials are projecting calm, even after a judge Monday rejected Bayer’s request to reverse an August jury verdict against the company in the first Roundup case to go to trial.

“Like other pharmaceutical giants, Bayer has for decades battled mass tort lawsuits in the U.S. alleging its drugs and medical devices sicken or kill people. Bayer has typically denied liability, arguing it acted responsibly in marketing its products and warning of side effects. In legal circles, the company has developed a reputation for negotiating when it feels the situation requires that approach, but fighting back and pushing to trial when it believes it can win, even if it takes years to play out.”

The Journal writers explained that, “The 155-year-old company also faces actions from some 24,300 plaintiffs alleging Bayer’s best-selling blood thinner Xarelto causes severe bleeding and even death. Another 17,000 claims are pending over its discontinued permanent birth-control implant Essure, which plaintiffs allege causes injuries ranging from depression to hysterectomy, and 2,700 over its longterm birth control device Mirena. Bayer denies liability and is fighting the suits.

“The Monsanto deal added claims from at least 8,700 plaintiffs targeting its flagship weedkiller Roundup. [Bayer Chief Executive Werner Baumann] and other Bayer executives in recent weeks have vowed to contest mounting lawsuits.”

Yesterday’s Journal article added that, “A Bayer spokesman said while each case is unique, the scientific and regulatory records of a product play a big part. In the Roundup litigation, he said, ‘Bayer is confident in both of these factors because its glyphosate-based products are among the most-studied of their kind, and the four decadelong body of scientific research confirms they are safe when used as directed, and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.’

“Defending everyday products can also be more difficult than defending drugs, experts say, because it is harder for the company to argue that any risk is worth the potential upside. A drug with potentially serious side effects, for instance, could still save lives.”

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