Last month, Australian news media reported that a Melbourne gardener has become the first person to sue Bayer’s Monsanto in Australia over its weed killer product, Roundup (‘Melbourne gardener launches legal action against Monsanto in first Australian Roundup lawsuit‘, 4 Jun)
Bayer has already lost 3 lawsuits in the US with the jury finding its weed killer responsible for the cancer of the plaintiffs. Some 13,000 lawsuits are currently pending in US’ courts over Bayer’s weed killer product.
The Melbourne gardener, Michael Ogliarolo, 54, filed a writ in Victoria’s Supreme Court last month. He ran his own landscape gardening business until he was forced to retire due to ill health. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had been using Roundup for over 18 years in his work as a landscape gardener.
His lawyer said his client would mix the herbicide and apply it on lawns and plants as part of his job. Mr Ogliarolo is claiming Monsanto failed to warn him that the use of Roundup products was dangerous and capable of causing serious injuries, loss and damage.
“What we’re saying is that due to the heavy exposure, no warnings on the label to say ‘look, wear a mask, wash your hands, do this and do that’, consequently he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” his lawyer told the media.
The lawyer said they would be using similar evidence presented in the three trials in the US and would bring international experts over if needed. There was plenty of evidence showing that glyphosate could cause cancer, the lawyer added.
He also said that the number of people using Roundup in Australia was “absolutely massive”. “Usually pain and suffering’s over A$500,000 and loss of income’s around A$1.2 million, but we’d be asking in these sorts of cases for punitive damages,” he said.
In the US, Monsanto has so far been ordered to pay four cancer patients, with the most recent verdict ordering a payout of US$2 billion. Bayer is expected to appeal in all the cases it has lost.
Sydney council workers walk-off and refuse to work over Roundup
Meanwhile, earlier this month, it was reported that some 500 workers working for the Blacktown City Council in Western Sydney walked-off and refused to work with the glyphosate-based Roundup.
The United Services Union which represents council workers said outdoor staff at Blacktown City Council refused to continue using Roundup over safety concerns. The union revealed that the “dispute escalated” after the council management ordered six staff either to use the product or be forced into alternative jobs, resulting in a number of staff stopping work.
The council then urgently sought a hearing at the Industrial Relations Commission after garbage bins were not collected and some outdoor services were disrupted due to the industrial action by the workers.
However, it later relented and announced that an agreement had been reached with the union, under which the workers would return to their jobs as long as the council implemented a trial of a “viable alternate weed control product”.
“We have agreed to trial viable alternatives. What is important for everyone to understand is that council will not place employees or members of the public at risk,” Blacktown’s mayor assured.
Currently, glyphosate has not been banned in Australia.
Bayer remains defiant while Temasek remains confident
With regard to the latest Roundup lawsuit being initiated in Australia, Bayer continues to support its product and affirm that its weed killer doesn’t cause cancer. In a statement, it said:
“We have great sympathy for any individual with cancer but the extensive body of science on glyphosate-based herbicides over four decades supports the conclusion that Roundup does not cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the end of the day, whether you’re in the court of law, regulatory agencies or court of public opinion, it’s the science that should matter here.”
Temasek Holdings, which invested at least 3 billion euros in Bayer last year and helped it to takeover the US company Monsanto which produces Roundup, reportedly said that it is confident about Bayer’s “future prospects”.
At a recent media event, Temasek’s Head of Americas John Vaske said that their investment in Bayer was “underwritten by a long-term thesis that still remains intact today”. He added that Bayer has largely met the Temasek team’s initial assumptions and projections, which gives them confidence.
Vaske noted that the decline in Bayer’s share prices is a “function of the uncertainty surrounding the litigation case”. As an investor focused on the long term without immediate capital needs, Temasek is able to look past the uncertainty surrounding the litigation issue and focus on the company’s long-term potential, he said.
Since Roundup lawsuits started surfacing last year, Temasek has lost close to 40 per cent from its original investment of 3 billion euros.
Following the lawsuit filed by the Melbourne gardener, it was also reported that at least two Australian law firms, LHD Laywers and Maurice Blackburn, are investigating potential class actions against Bayer. The law firms revealed that they have been receiving “hundreds of inquiries” from people exposed to glyphosate since last year.
“It’s people from all walks of life, mums and dads using the product every weekend doing the garden, to more heavy users like those involved in vegetation management in particular and also people from the farming community where they use a lot of this product day in and day out,” a lawyer at Maurice Blackburn told the media.
“So we’re actively investigating a number of cases and we’re in the stage of getting expert evidence to help support individual actions.”
In any case, more lawsuits appear to be soon queuing up in Australian courts too but both Bayer and Temasek remain confident.