Bayer AG is planning to invest billions of dollars in new weed killers, a signal that the German company may be looking to undo some of the damage wrought by the growing controversy surrounding its recently acquired Monsanto Roundup weed killer.
According to today’s announcement, Bayer will spend approximately $5.6 billion over the next 10 years to develop “additional methods to combat weeds.” The company also promised to seek more public feedback when glyphosate undergoes recertification in the Europe Union later this year.
“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,” Friday’s statement said.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s line of Roundup weed killers. Bayer took on ownership of the popular herbicides last June, when it acquired the U.S.-based agribusiness for $63 billion.
Although glyphosate is the most widely used weed killer in the world, doubts about its safety have been mounting since March 2015. That year, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, after an independent review linked occupational exposure to an increased risk for cancer, especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and its various subtypes.
Subsequent studies and reviews have produced mixed findings. In March, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency once again declared glyphosate safe. But just a month later, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said it couldn’t rule out a cancer link and called for more research.
Bayer is now defending more than 13,000 Monsanto Roundup lawsuits in the United States that blame glyphosate for cancer. Among other things, these plaintiffs claim that Monsanto worked to discredit the IARC reviewing by funding and ghostwriting positive glyphosate studies, as well as leveraging a cozy relationship with the EPA and other regulators to unduly influence reviews of the herbicide.
Three Roundup cancer claims have gone to trial since last August, and Bayer has yet to win a single case. Most recently, a jury in California’s Alameda County Superior Court ordered the company to pay $2 billion to an elderly couple, both of whom developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following years of Roundup use.
The previous two Monsanto Roundup trials also involved non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and resulted in verdicts of $78 million and $80 million.
The next Roundup lawsuit trial will get underway in August in St. Louis, Missouri. The jurisdiction has a reputation for favoring plaintiffs, but is also close to Monsanto’s headquarters.
Last month, a federal judge ordered Bayer into mediation in a bid to resolve the massive Roundup litigation. Prominent attorney Kenneth Feinberg, known for his role in leading the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund negotiations and other high-profile mediations, will oversee the discussions.
According to Bloomberg, some analysts estimate that a Monsanto Roundup settlement could cost Bayer as much as $10 billion.