Bayer AG’s Monsanto troubles have moved beyond costly Roundup cancer lawsuits.
A little more than a week after the German conglomerate acknowledged a Monsanto data collection effort that targeted journalists, researchers, and other critics in France, the scandal has ensnared an additional half-dozen European countries.
Bayer confirmed earlier this month that Monsanto had hired FleishmanHillard Group to help influence the public debate on pesticides. That influence campaign began in 2016, roughly two years before Bayer completed its $63 million Monsanto acquisition.
Among other things, the Missouri-based media firm compiled watch lists of French pesticide critics, including their private cell phone numbers, personal email addresses, and even favored leisure pursuits. The Monsanto data collection effort likely violated the European Union’s strict data privacy laws and have already led to a criminal investigation in Paris.
Bayer ended its relationship with FleishmanHillard once the tracking campaign became public.
Earlier today, the company revealed that the Monsanto data collection effort also extended to Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom, as well as European Union institutions.
According to Bloomberg News, Sidley Austin LLP has been tapped to investigate the surveillance program on Bayer’s behalf. The Chicago-based law firm will review Monsanto’s lists and start informing named individuals by the end of next week.
The scandal erupted as Bayer struggles to defend more than 13,400 Roundup cancer lawsuits pending in U.S. courts. The company inherited the massive and potentially costly litigation as a consequence of the Monsanto acquisition.
In fact, just days before the company confirmed the Monsanto data collection effort, a jury in Alameda Superior Court awarded over $2 billion in compensatory and punitive damages to an elderly couple, both of whom were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following decades of exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
The case was the third Monsanto Roundup lawsuit to go to trial since August 2018. The previous two glyphosate juries also favored plaintiffs, awarding those individuals combined damages of roughly $159 million.
Cancer victims pursuing Roundup lawsuits claim that Monsanto has worked for years to influence the conversation surrounding glyphosate. These efforts allegedly included funding and ghostwriting favorable studies, as well as leveraging close relationships with officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies that subsequently declared glyphosate non-carcinogenic.
Bayer’s stock has slumped more than 40% since Roundup cancer trials began, and market capitalization has fallen below the price it paid for Monsanto. The stunning decline has angered investors, the majority of whom entered a vote of no-confidence during Bayer’s annual shareholder meeting in Bonn last month.