Bayer dangles US$5.6 billion olive branch to Roundup critics

AG plans to about 5 billion euros (US$5.6 billion) in developing alternatives to its weedkiller glyphosate as it battles more than 13,000 lawsuits claiming the herbicide causes cancer.

The German chemical and drug company moved to ease concerns over the controversial chemical, saying it will open the safety certification process in Europe to public scrutiny. Bayer wants to offer farmers more options to combat weeds while standing behind glyphosate-based Roundup, which it acquired via its US$63 billion purchase of Monsanto.

“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,” according to a statement Friday.

Bayer is trying to rehabilitate its image as it battles a wave of US-centered litigation that has spread to countries like Australia. Last month, Bayer suffered a third-straight trial loss over claims that exposure to Roundup caused cancer, prompting some analysts to boost settlement-cost estimates to as much as US$10 billion.

The shares were little changed early Friday in Frankfurt. They’ve lost more than 40% of their value since the Monsanto deal was completed a year ago.

Bayer has struggled to cope with the negative sentiment that Monsanto left in the minds of many people around the world. Last month, it hired law firm Sidley Austin LLP to investigate a surveillance project that the US company launched against European reporters and policymakers.

EU registration
Scientists, journalists and nongovernmental organisations will be able to participate in the upcoming European Union re-registration process for the product, starting later this year, Bayer said. The German company and other glyphosate makers must start the procedure in order to keep selling the chemical in the region after 2022. The last round of review was contentious, ending in a short-term reapproval in 2017.

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Governments of several European countries, including France and Germany, have moved to curb the use of the weedkiller.

The 5 billion euros in spending on new herbicides over the next decade does not represent new money. It’s part of Bayer’s existing 2.5 billion-euro annual budget for crop science research and development, spokesman Tino Andresen said. The company expects more growth from seeds and digital farming businesses in the coming years, where innovation is expected to yield greater rewards.

A US judge overseeing federal lawsuits has appointed high-profile mediator Ken Feinberg to lead settlement talks over the herbicide litigation. The next case is set to go to trial in August in St. Louis, Missouri, a district that’s close to Monsanto’s headquarters but also considered friendly to plaintiffs.

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