German chemical giant Bayer’s efforts to settle US lawsuits claiming its glyphosate weedkiller causes cancer face a setback after a California judge raised concerns over its US$10.9bn deal, Bloomberg News reported on 27 August.

Bayer had announced an agreement in June to settle around 125,000 claims in the USA over the Roundup weedkiller it had inherited after buying the US agrochemical group Monsanto for US$63bn in 2018.

At a hearing on 27 August, US district judge Vince Chhabria was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying he was concerned that Bayer had ‘manipulated’ the settlement process and might allow the plaintiffs’ litigation process to restart, putting the whole deal under threat.

The judge was also quoted as saying that he was concerned that by keeping the lawsuits on hold, ‘am I complicit in whatever shenanigans are taking place on the Bayer side?’

Chhabria was expected to make a decision over the next month, according to Bloomberg News.

The day after the hearing, shares in Bayer fell more than 3%.

“There are often some bumps in the road in implementing a resolution of this magnitude but we remain confident that a comprehensive settlement will be finalised and executed,” Bayer was quoted as saying in a statement.

Judge Chhabria’s concerns were the second legal setback for Bayer in its efforts to settle the Roundup issues.

In July, the same judge had also criticised Bayer’s US$1.25bn proposal to shut down future Roundup lawsuits, forcing the company to take another look at the plan.

Bayer would not be admitting any wrongdoing under the settlement packages and the company has consistently denied claims that Roundup or its active ingredient cause cancer, saying decades of independent studies have shown the product is safe for human use.

In related news, Claims Journal reported on 1 September that Bayer had appealed against a US$20.5M ruling made by the California Court of Appeal in July in the case of groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson.

A San Francisco jury had initially awarded Johnson US$289.2M after finding the chemical glyphosate in Roundup had caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The trial judge had reduced that amount to US$78.5M and the Court of Appeal later reduced the damages to US$20.5M.

Bayer said the Court of Appeal ruling affirmed a verdict that severely punished Monsanto for complying with federal law and would be relied upon by courts handling other Roundup cases.

Bayer said the high court should determine if a manufacturer of a federally approved herbicide could be liable under state law for failing to provide a cancer warning when the federal regulator had determined federal law did not permit that warning.

Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used herbicide and Roundup is used in combination with Bayer’s genetically modified seeds, including soyabeans and corn, which are resistant to it.