Health

Bayer stock plunges after jury awards $289 million to man with terminal cancer

Monsanto will appeal $289 million decision

Bayer’s stock slumped about 10 percent in midday trading Monday — the most in almost seven years — three days after a California jury awarded $289 million to a former groundskeeper who said the popular weedkiller Roundup gave him terminal cancer.

The stock drop sent a cautionary signal to the company that acquired Monsanto, the maker of the weedkiller, in June for $63 billion.

The merger created the world’s largest seed and agrochemical company, marrying Monsanto’s dominance in genetically modified crops with Bayer’s pesticide business.

Bayer’s portfolio also includes pharmaceuticals with such household brands as Aleve to Alka-Seltzer.

The verdict poses a new challenge for Bayer in its quest to combat concern swirling around Monsanto by consumer, health and environmental advocates.

For years, the company has drawn sharp criticism and allegations about the health hazards caused by Roundup, and Monsanto faces thousands of lawsuits that assert its product is linked to cancer diagnoses.

Monsanto’s reputation problems now are Bayer’s problems, said Anthony Johndrow, a corporate reputation adviser.

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Lawsuits against Monsanto are nothing new, Johndrow said, adding that Bayer risks souring sales of its other products because of the public perceptions of Monsanto.

“Any stakeholder is going to be asking right now, ‘Why would they buy Monsanto with this stuff hanging over its head?’” Johndrow said. “I think that’s a question they have to answer, and they have to answer it sooner than they planned to.”

Bayer previously had announced that the Monsanto brand name would be nixed as soon as this month.

In a call with reporters in June, president of Bayer’s Crop Science Division Liam Condon said the move to lose Monsanto’s name was part of a wider strategy to win back consumer trust.

Bayer chief executive Werner Baumann separately said the company would “aim to deepen our dialogue with society” and “listen to our critics.”

At the time, Bayer executives said they couldn’t predict what form this re-imagined consumer engagement would take.

Neither Bayer nor Monsanto returned requests for comment.

“The more important point now, once we change the company name, is that we talk about what the new company will stand for,” Condon said on the June call. “Just changing the name doesn’t do so much — we’ve got to explain to farmers and ultimately to consumers why this new company is important for farming, for agriculture and for food, and how that impacts consumers and the environment.”

Monsanto has long maintained that its products don’t cause cancer, and the company doubled down on its stance after Friday’s verdict.

Monsanto’s vice president, Scott Partridge, said in a statement that the verdict “does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews ... support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer.”

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Partridge said Monsanto would appeal the decision “and continue to vigorously defend this product.”

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