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US peach farmer wins $265 million damages over Bayer, BASF herbicide

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A US jury has awarded $265 million to a Missouri farmer who blamed herbicide from chemical giants Bayer AG and German rival BASF for destroying his peach orchards, in a case set to bolster 140 other lawsuits.

Jurors in federal court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, made the ruling on Saturday after peach farmer Bill Bader claimed the companies encouraged farmers to use the dicamba weedkiller irresponsibly.

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Bloomberg News reported that the case was the first US trial over dicamba herbicide, which is alleged to have wrecked crops across America’s Midwest by drifting onto plants that were unable to resist it.

Much like Roundup, another much-criticised herbicide marketed by Monsanto, dicamba has been on the market many years.

Use of the chemical jumped after Monsanto — which was bought by Germany’s Bayer in 2018 — introduced seeds that can resist the weed-killer.

But the product has been blamed for polluting around four percent of US soybean fields in 2017. A common complaint is that the herbicide spreads to nearby areas.

dpa/AFP/File / Uwe Anspach Dicamba herbicide is alleged to have wrecked crops across America’s Midwest by drifting onto plants that were unable to resist it

The fight over dicamba comes in the wake of a case in which Bayer was ordered by a California jury to pay $290 million for failing to warn a dying groundskeeper that Roundup might cause cancer.

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In January, reports suggested Bayer could stump up $10 billion in a settlement with tens of thousands of US plaintiffs suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The cancer sufferers say they developed the disease after exposure to glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup.

Bayer, which has maintained that dicamba is safe for crops as long as farmers follow instructions, said in a statement it would “swiftly appeal the decision”.

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Meanwhile BASF said it was “surprised” by the ruling and would “use all available legal resources”.


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Why the novel coronavirus became a social media nightmare

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The biggest reputational risk Facebook and other social media companies had expected in 2020 was fake news surrounding the US presidential election. Be it foreign or domestic in origin, the misinformation threat seemed familiar, perhaps even manageable.

The novel coronavirus, however, has opened up an entirely different problem: the life-endangering consequences of supposed cures, misleading claims, snake-oil sales pitches and conspiracy theories about the outbreak.

So far, AFP has debunked almost 200 rumors and myths about the virus, but experts say stronger action from tech companies is needed to stop misinformation and the scale at which it can be spread online.

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Hospitals turn to snorkel masks to ease respirator overload

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As hospitals face an overload of COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe, innovative medical staff are turning to snorkeling masks from sports stores to stop their lungs collapsing.

The idea started in Italy, the European country worst-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with hospitals in other nations taking note and adding their own specific medical parts to make it work.

One such is the Erasme Hospital on the outskirts of Belgium's capital Brussels. It is attached to the city's ULB university -- and through it to a private spin-off, Endo Tools Therapeutics, whose know-how in 3D printing for medical use has proved invaluable.

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Europe, US virus deaths surge as Trump reverses New York lockdown threat

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The global coronavirus death toll surged past 30,000 over the weekend as Europe and the United States endured their darkest days of the crisis.

A back-flip from US President Donald Trump on quarantining New York highlighted the panic and confusion across many parts of the world in trying to contain the pandemic, which has seen more than a third of humanity placed under unprecedented lockdowns.

More than 30,800 deaths had been reported worldwide by Sunday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, as the virus continued to leave a devastating imprint on nearly every aspect of society: wiping out millions of jobs, overwhelming healthcare services and draining national treasuries.

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