According to unnamed sources involved in confidential ongoing legal negotiations, Bayer is backing out of draft settlements with several U.S. law firms representing more than 45,000 plaintiffs who allege that their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an immune system cancer, was caused by exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate) herbicide. 

Bayer inherited Monsanto’s massive litigation woes when it purchased the controversial St. Louis-based Monsanto, also a major producer of genetically modified crops, for $63 billion in 2018.

The draft settlement, valued at approximately $10 billion, was “one of the most complex and costly corporate litigation cases ever” according to a February Wall Street Journal report. 

Now Bayer wants to settle for as much as 20% less, Bloomberg reported on April 3. Similarly, plaintiffs’ attorneys told U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit investigative group focused on the food industry, that Bayer told them it would no longer honor previously agreed upon settlement amounts.

Bayer, on the other hand, has officially blamed coronavirus-related social distancing impacts, such as canceled meetings, for a “slowed” and “delayed” mediation process, according to The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, respectively. 

“We cannot speculate about potential outcomes from the negotiations or timing, given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and the confidentiality of this process, but we remain committed to engaging in mediation in good faith,” Bayer told U.S. Right to Know.

With U.S. courts closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bayer is no longer facing pressure from imminent lawsuits. According to an April 3 Wall Street Journal report, Bayer was hoping to settle claims prior to an April 28 shareholder meeting, now being held virtually due to the pandemic, to reassure jittery shareholders. 

More than $80 billion in jury awards from losses in three U.S. trials had taken a serious toll on Bayer’s stock price, which had fallen as much as 47% since the Monsanto purchase. Trial judges have since reduced the awards to a total of $190.5 million.

While the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015, in April 2019 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reaffirmed its position that glyphosate “poses no risk to public health.”

Roundup is the most widely-used herbicide in the world, generating more than $7 billion in revenue for Monsanto in 2017. It continues to be sold in the United States, despite a 2019 analysis that found Roundup increased cancer risk by 41% in those exposed to it and despite being banned in Luxembourg, Vietnam and Thailand.