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Bayer, maker of Roundup weedkiller, agrees to pay $10 billion in cancer settlements

The German company faces tens of thousands of claims that the herbicide is linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Containers of Roundup are displayed at a store in San Francisco. (Haven Daley/AP)

German pharmaceutical and life sciences giant Bayer has agreed to pay more than $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of current and potential U.S. claims that its weedkiller Roundup causes cancer.

The world’s largest seed and agrochemical maker announced the settlement in a news release on Wednesday, saying it will allocate as much as $9.6 billion to resolve current Roundup litigation. The company said the pool will cover roughly 125,000 claims that allege the product leads to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The company said 75 percent of those cases were resolved as part of Wednesday’s agreement.

The company will also set aside $1.25 billion for a separate class agreement for potential future claims, which will be subject to approval in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Judge Vince Chhabria.

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Bayer inherited a public relations and litigation crisis with its $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto, a St. Louis-based agribusiness giant, in 2018. At the time, Monsanto maintained that glyphosate — the active weed-killing ingredient in Roundup — had a history of safe use, a stance that Bayer has since echoed.

But in 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer labeled the herbicide as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Bayer emphasized that the settlement was not to be taken as an admission of liability or wrongdoing. Rather, it allows the company to “bring a long period of uncertainty to an end,” chief executive Werner Baumann said in a statement.

“As a science-based company committed to improving people’s health, we have great sympathy for anyone who suffers from disease, and we understand their search for answers,” Baumann said. “At the same time, the extensive body of science indicates that Roundup does not cause cancer, and therefore, is not responsible for the illnesses alleged in this litigation. We stand strongly behind our glyphosate-based herbicides, which are among the most rigorously studied products of their kind, and four decades of science support their safety and that they are not carcinogenic.”

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Glyphosate is relatively inexpensive and the most commonly used agricultural herbicide in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In January, the EPA concluded in its interim registration review decision that it “did not identify any risks of concern” for cancer and non-cancer risks to humans from glyphosate exposure.

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In the past two years, California jurors have awarded $2 billion to a couple, $80 million to a man, and $289 million to a former groundskeeper (the three settlements were later reduced) who all blamed their cancer diagnoses on Roundup, which led Bayer shares to plummet. The company said in its Wednesday statement that these three cases won’t be covered by the settlement and will continue through the appeals process. Claimants who choose to participate in the settlement will have to drop their cases or agree not to file.

For the future class agreement, the company said, an independent Class Science Panel composed of expert scientists will take several years to determine whether Roundup has the potential to cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and, if so, at what minimum exposure levels. Those who file claims as part of the class action won’t be able to proceed with their cases until the determination is made.

Access to Roundup products won’t change, but Bayer said it would continue to offer customers more herbicide options through its 10-year investment in developing new methods to manage weeds to support sustainable agriculture.