German chemical company Bayer has agreed to let an independent scientific team study the health effects of its popular weed killer, Roundup. Legal experts say the company hopes results of the study will prevent future lawsuits by people who claim the product is harmful.
Bayer agreed Wednesday to pay as much as $10.9 billion to end legal cases brought by U.S. Roundup users who say the product gave them a form of blood cancer. But as part of the settlement agreement, Bayer had to find a separate solution aimed at limiting future claims without removing the product from stores.
The company decided to take a risk that the scientific study will support its claim that the chemical glyphosate is safe for agricultural use. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup.
Regulators worldwide have found glyphosate not to be carcinogenic. That includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the European Chemicals Agency.
But the World Health Organization's cancer research arm found the weed killer to be a "probable carcinogen" in 2015. And since 2018, three U.S. juries, who listened to scientific evidence from both sides during trial, found that Roundup causes cancer.
David Noll is a law professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He told Reuters news agency that Bayer is "taking a huge risk by doing this." He said the company hopes "time can show that the science underlying the plaintiffs' claims is bad."
Many details of the proposal have not yet been released and a final settlement must be approved by a federal judge. But the settlement plan calls for an independent team of scientific experts, who will likely be chosen and agreed upon by both sides.
The company will pay $1.25 billion to support the team's research, an amount that does not include any payments to settle future lawsuits.
The scientific review process is expected to take at least four years. Findings by the team would be legally binding on Bayer, as well as anyone who has used Roundup before Wednesday, but not developed cancer.
If the scientific team finds glyphosate to be non-carcinogenic, those users could not bring legal action. If the team does find glyphosate causes cancer, however, Bayer could face many new lawsuits, with possible damages decided at a later date.
Bayer said Wednesday the lead plaintiffs' lawyers have agreed to the plan. However, Reuters was not immediately able to reach those lawyers for comment.
In the past, lawyers representing people who said Roundup gave them cancer have claimed Bayer manipulated scientific studies and misled the scientific community. Bayer denies those claims.
Company officials on calls with reporters and experts said they were confident the scientific review would find Roundup safe.
Scientific teams have been set up in other major cases involving mass plaintiffs against Bayer. But those cases were generally not part of a settlement process, legal experts said.
Bayer's proposal was "creative but risky" and will likely face problems in court, said Adam Zimmerman, a professor at Loyola Law School in California.
The experts said many details of the proposal remain unclear. One unknown is whether people who have not yet gotten sick could give up their rights to a future lawsuit under the plan.
I'm Bryan Lynn.