Monsanto Judge Won't Block Cancer Victims' Key Witnesses

(Bloomberg) -- Monsanto Co. lost a court ruling that permits key witnesses to testify in a lawsuit claiming the company’s Roundup weed killer caused cancer for farmers and other users.

It’s a significant victory for the cancer victims, who need expert testimony to advance more than 300 suits in San Francisco federal court seeking to hold Monsanto liable for failing to warn consumers about the risk of using the weed killer. A jury trial hasn’t been scheduled, but the decision puts pressure on Monsanto to settle the cases.

“Moving forward, we will continue to defend these lawsuits with robust evidence that proves there is absolutely no connection between glyphosate and cancer,” Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge said in an e-mailed statement. “ We have sympathy for anyone suffering from cancer, but the science clearly shows that glyphosate was not the cause.”

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria is evaluating the toxicity of the world’s most popular herbicide, the subject of a heated debate among scientists and regulators worldwide for more than 30 years. Witnesses cut from the lineup may have profoundly shaped the outcome of the lawsuits collected before the judge.

Despite misgivings about testimony he called “shaky,” Chhabria will let at least three key witnesses testify. The judge concluded a reasonable jury could find that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at exposure levels people realistically may have experienced.

"So long as an opinion is premised on reliable scientific principles, it should not be excluded by the trial judge; instead the weaknesses in an unpersuasive expert opinion can be exposed at trial, through cross-examination or testimony by opposing experts," Chhabria wrote in his opinion.

In a response to the ruling, Monsanto pointed to Chhabria’s decision to exclude two of the experts and limit the testimony of another. The company cited a portion of Chhabria’s opinion describing plaintiffs as facing a “daunting challenge” in the next phase of the litigation because “the evidence between glyphosate exposure and NHL in the human population seems rather weak.”

Brent Wisner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an e-mail that he is pleased with the ruling and looks forward to the next step, "getting our clients their day in court."

The case is In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2741, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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