Bayer Injects €5 Billion into Research and Development of Glyphosate-Weedkiller Alternatives

In Bayer AG’s latest Annual Report, published in February 2019, CEO Werner Baumann assured stockholders that thousands of product liability claims, which allege that cumulative use of Monsanto-produced glyphosate-containing herbicides causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma, would be defended on established medical and regulatory consensus:

‘We successfully completed the acquisition of Monsanto in summer 2018 ...

... there was a great deal if discussion last year about the safety of glyphosate. The ruling by a court of first instance in the Johnson case led to negative reactions in the media and the capital markets. This played into the hands of the activists and professional critics of agriculture. Among consumers and stockholders, it mainly caused uncertainty.

Yet the facts have not changed: glyphosate is still a safe product. That has been proven by numerous scientific studies and the independent assessments of regulatory authorities throughout the world over a period of more than 40 years.

Most recently, the Canadian health ministry once again reviewed the safety of glyphosate, stating unequivocally in January 2019 than “No pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed.” For us, this official statement serves to underline once again that we have the scientific facts on our side. We will therefore continue to vigorously defend glyphosate in all the pending litigation’.

Of course, we reported in April of this year (here), that Mr Baumann had been subjected to a vote of disapproval at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) – a sign that shareholders were not inspired by their Chairman’s perceived confidence.

Even after the 2nd and 3rd trial losses, reported in editions 269 (here) and 274 (here) of BC Disease News, respectively, Bayer maintained that jury verdicts in favour of claimants do not ‘change the weight of over four decades of extensive science and the conclusions of regulators worldwide that support the safety of our glyphosate-based herbicides and that they are not carcinogenic’.

The fact that the agrichemical giant has just pledged to invest €5 billion (£4.5 billion) over the next decade to develop ‘additional methods to combat weeds’ and reduce its environmental impact by 30% come 2030, would appear, at least at first blush, to contradict their consistently robust defence strategy.[i]

Nevertheless, Bayer spokesperson, Tino Andresen, was clear in stating that this multi-billion euro outlay falls under the company’s existing annual budget for crop science research and development, in the knowledge that seed and digital farming businesses are expecting to enhance their crop yield with innovative products.

To be clear, Bayer’s capital spending is therefore not part of a wider plan to replace glyphosate, which reinforces its insistent declaration that glyphosate does not pose a risk to human health:

‘While glyphosate will continue to play an important role in agriculture and in Bayer’s portfolio, the company is committed to offering more choices for growers.[ii]

Also, this week, Bayer submitted court filings in Alameda County Superior Court, California, in an attempt to have the $2 billion jury verdict, delivered in May 2019, overruled:

‘The resulting trial focused not on ascertaining the truth regarding the state of the science, causation, and compliance with legal duties, but instead on vilifying Monsanto in the abstract’.[iii]

Will trial Judge, Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith, sustain the original decision?

In a final glyphosate-related update, the European Commission has pledged greater transparency, as it prepares to commence a soon-approaching re-assessment of glyphosate licensing in the EU.

On 12 December 2017, the Commission renewed its approval of glyphosate for a shorter, 5-year term.

Subsequently, on 15 April 2019, Member States in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed endorsed the Commission’s proposal to designate joint rapporteurs for the next assessment of glyphosate.[iv] The nominated Assessment Group on Glyphosate (AGG) comprises of France, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden, as was confirmed by formal adoption of the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/724.

 

[i] Tassilo Hummel, ‘Bayer says to invest five billion euros in new weed killers’ (14 June 2019 Reuters) <https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-bayer-glyphosate-idUKKCN1TF0IJ> accessed 18 June 2019.

[ii] Tim Loh  and Naomi Kresge, ‘Bayer Dangles $5.6 Billion Olive Branch to Roundup Critics’ (14 June 2019 Bloomberg) <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-14/bayer-to-invest-5-6-billion-in-alternatives-to-glyphosate> accessed 18 June 2019.

[iii] Tina Bellon, ‘Bayer asks trial judge to reverse $2 billion Roundup jury verdict’ (18 June 2019 Reuters) <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bayer-glyphosate-lawsuit/bayer-asks-trial-judge-to-reverse-2-billion-roundup-jury-verdict-idUSKCN1TJ1Z8> accessed 20 June 2019.

[iv] ‘Glyphosate’ (Europa.EU) <https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/glyphosate_en> accessed 20 June 2019.