Third Roundup trial underway in Oakland; plaintiffs are married couple both with cancer

By Rich Peters | Apr 3, 2019

OAKLAND – The third case in which Monsanto’s Roundup is alleged to have caused cancer got underway at the Oakland, Alameda County Superior Courthouse on March 28. Opening statements of Pilliod v. Monsanto were made just hours before a federal jury found Monsanto liable for $80.5 million across the Bay in San Francisco in the case of Edwin Hardeman v. Monsanto.

In this case, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, both in their 70s, are the latest plaintiffs battling Monsanto - but the first married couple. Alva was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and his wife, Alberta, was diagnosed in 2015. While both are currently in remission, they have each been through multiple rounds of treatment.

“You are going to learn that both of my clients have cancer,” said plaintiff’s attorney Brent Wisner of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei and Goldman in Los Angeles to the jury. “They both got a specific subtype of cancer called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

“To give you a context of what that means, according to the American Cancer Society, about one in 127 men in their lifetime will get this type of lymphoma, and for women about one in 162 - that's just by themselves,” Wisner continued. “But if you do the probability of both of them getting it just by chance, just by random chance alone, not because of Roundup, because of something else, it's one in 20,000.”

The Pilliods are said to have used Roundup from the mid-1970s until just a few years ago, believing that it was safe for not only them and their family, but the environment around their Livermore, California property as well.

“The one big question is this one we’re going to spend the most time on: Does Roundup exposure actually cause cancer? Does it cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?” said Wisner to the jury. “Then there’s going to be a question of whether or not Roundup was a substantial factor in causing Alva and Alberta’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”

The plaintiffs allege that Monsanto, “Failed to exercise reasonable care in the design, research, manufacture, testing, marketing, supply, promotion, advertisement, packaging, sale, and distribution of its Roundup products, in that Monsanto manufactured and produced defective herbicides containing the chemical glyphosate,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also states that the company “could have provided the warnings or instructions regarding the full and complete risks of Roundup and glyphosate-containing products because they knew or should have known of the unreasonable risks of harm associated with the use of and/or exposure to such products.”

Monsanto attorney Tarek Ismail’s opening statement echoed the same sentiments that the company maintained throughout the first two trials. Ismail is a partner with Goldman Ismail Tomaselli Brennan & Baum in Chicago.

“That fundamental point, that Roundup is not generally recognized as a cause of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, will be echoed time and time again through the evidence you will see during this trial,” Ismail said.

Monsanto, which was purchased by Bayer for $63 billion in 2018, stands by its claim that scientific evidence has never shown their product to be cancerous.

“Based on all the available data, the weight of the evidence clearly do not support the descriptors ‘carcinogenic to humans’ and ‘likely to be carcinogenic to humans at this time,’” explained Ismail to the jurors. “The strongest support is for ‘not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.’ You will see how they reached that conclusion and the data that they relied upon to do so.”

On Tuesday, retired U.S. government scientist Christopher Portier, who now serves as a plaintiffs' witness, gave live testimony. Portier had led the National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before his recent retirement. He also had spent 32 years with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, serving as associate director, and director of the Environmental Toxicology Program.

Portier penned a controversial May 2017 open letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, after his review of the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.

“The raw data for the animal cancer studies for glyphosate have been made public, and a reanalysis of these data show eight instances where significant increases in tumor response following glyphosate exposure were identified, but had not been included in previous cancer assessments by either the European authorities or the U.S. EPA,” Portier’s letter reads. “This suggests that the evaluations applied to the glyphosate data are scientifically flawed, and any decisions derived from these evaluations will fail to protect public health.”

Monsanto continues to discredit Portier's views on the safety of glyphosate herbicides. 

His testimony is expected to be followed by a second key expert witness, Charles “Bill” Jameson.

Jameson is a senior chemist and toxicologist specializing in carcinogenesis. He has worked for the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and has served as a consultant for the World Health Organization.

Judge Winifred Smith presides over the case, which is expected to last approximately a month. Twelve jurors and five alternates were selected last week. 

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