Bayer pledges US$5.6bn in weed killer research

German chemicals firm Bayer AG has promised to invest US$5.6bn in weed killer research as it fights to repair its reputation in the wake of three multi-million dollar verdicts against it linking its Roundup glyphosate pesticide with cancer.

“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,” Bayer said in a press release on 14 June.

In addition to investing US$5.6bn in additional methods to combat weeds over the next 10 years, Bayer has pledged to reduce its environmental impact by 30% by 2030, with measures such as more precise and sparing application of crop chemicals.

Bayer – which acquired Monsanto and its Roundup brand last June, is facing around 13,400 Roundup cancer cases in state and federal courts in the USA.

According to Reuters, its current market valuation is US$56bn, less than the US$63bn it paid when it bought Monsanto.

On 13 May, a jury in Oakland, California ruled that Bayer was liable for the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) cancer of Alva and Alberta Pilliod and ordered the company to pay US$1bn in damages to each of them, and more than US$55M total in compensatory damages.

The ruling follows two previous trials where Bayer was ordered to pay US$80.3M to California resident Edwin Hardeman on 27 March and US$78M to former school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson in October 2018.

Bayer maintains that glyphosate is safe for human use, pointing to continuing approval of glyphosate by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It has asked a California judge to overrule the US$2bn damages awarded to the Pilliods or order a new trial, arguing that the jury decision was not supported by evidence.

In court filings on 17 June at the Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, it blamed the verdict on "inflammatory, fabricated and irrelevant evidence" from the couples' lawyers, Reuters reported.

"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," Bayer said.

Monsanto supplies farmers across the world with crop protection products and biotech crop seeds, such as soyabeans, corn, cotton, wheat and canola.