Bayer AG’s Roundup woes grew significantly worse this week, after the German company was forced to issue an apology for secret Monsanto lists that apparently targeted its critics.
Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018 for $63 million.
Although the merger was supposed to create a global leader in agriculture, it hasn’t exactly worked out as intended. That because more than 13,000 Roundup cancer lawsuits pending in courts throughout the United States are now Bayer’s problem and could end up costing the company billions.
Bayer maintains the cases have no merit, but the first three juries convened to hear evidence in Monsanto Roundup lawsuits clearly did not agree with those assertions and delivered massive verdicts for plaintiffs. Most recently, a jury in California’s Alameda Superior Court awarded more than $2 billion in compensatory and punitive damages to an elderly couple, both of whom developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following decades of glyphosate exposure.
Like other Roundup cancer plaintiffs, the couple presented evidence suggesting Monsanto waged an aggressive campaign to undermine its critics and manipulate scientific research and regulatory reviews that had found glyphosate to be safe. Some of those claims were bolstered this past Sunday, when Bayer confirmed that Monsanto had hired a public relations firm called FleishmanHillard to compile lists of individuals and entities in France that had been critical of its glyphosate-based herbicides and other products.
The Monsanto lists were compiled in 2016, as part of a media counter-offensive. They included information on 200 French politicians, scientists and journalist, such as the subject’s private phone numbers, email addresses, and even their leisure pursuits.
LeMonde and one its journalists were among those targeted, prompting the newspaper to lodge a formal complaint on Sunday. Paris prosecutors are now investigating the Monsanto lists, which likely violated the European Union’s data privacy laws.
“After an initial analysis, we understand that such a project raised concerns and criticism,” Bayer said in a statement issued on Sunday. “This is not the way Bayer seeks dialogue with society and stakeholders. We apologize for this behavior.”
Bayer has suspended its relationship with Missouri-based FleishmanHillard and hired a law firm to look into Monsanto’s actions. The manager responsible for the endeavor has also since left the company.
Unfortunately, it looks like the scandal is poised to grow even worse, as Bayer’s head of public affairs told journalist on Monday that additional Monsanto lists likely exist and other European countries would probably be affected.
Any new revelations aren’t going to help Bayer’s share price, which has lost 44% of its value in the wake of the Monsanto acquisition, largely due to the three massive Roundup verdicts. According to Reuters, the company’s market capitalization is now smaller than the price it paid for Monsanto.
The Roundup litigation already sparked a shareholder revolt at Bayer’s annual meeting last month, when a majority of investors voted against ratifying the actions taken by management in 2018.