Diana Marszalek 14 Jun 2019 // 8:25PM GMT
LEVERKUSEN — Reeling from issues connected to its acquisition of Monsanto last year, Bayer on Friday unveiled a multi-fold plan to find an alternative to glyphosate, the weed killer in Monsanto’s Roundup that's behind thousands of lawsuits alleging the herbicide causes cancer.
“We’re making good progress on integrating the acquired agriculture business, and are now starting to implement a series of measures to drive transparency and sustainability across our business,” Bayer AG chairman Werner Baumann said in a statement, adding that the measures are in response to the “questions and concerns” raised about Bayer’s role in agriculture since its $63b Monsanto acquisition last year. “We will continue to advance our standard, driven by our commitment to a better life for this generation and generations to come.”
Friday's pledge by Bayer included spending €5b on finding alternatives to glyphosate, which has been the rallying point for opponents of Monsanto, particularly in Europe, while causing Bayer reputational, legal and financial problems.
Bayer reportedly faces 13,000 lawsuits related to Roundup, alleging the key ingredient is carcinogenic. In March, a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $80m to a California man after determining the product was at least partially to blame for his cancer.
The fallout from Bayer's Monsanto acquisition has been far-reaching, impacting a number of sectors including public relations. In May, Bayer made a bold and controversial move, suspending suspending longtime Monsanto PR firm FleishmanHillard after French media reported the agency conducted stakeholder mapping, dating back to 2016.
The latest moves, however, also come as Bayer and other companies that use glyphosate in their products brace for what will surely be a contentious reapproval process in the EU. The products could be pulled from the market after 2022 if they don't meet the conditions of a formal review.
While glyphosate will "continue to play an important role" in agriculture and in Bayer’s portfolio, the company said it will invest approximately 5 billion euros in additional methods to combat weeds over the next decade. The R&D investment will focus on improving the understanding of resistance mechanisms, discovering and developing new modes of actions, further developing tailored integrated weed management solutions and developing more precise recommendations through digital farming tools.
"Growers need access to more tools and better insights in order to fully implement sustainable integrated weed management strategies on their farms," said Bayer spokesman Christopher Loder. "Farmers deserve choices. In short, we intend to give farmers access to more tools – chemical and non-chemical – to manage the weeds that can be their biggest impediment to raising a healthy crop. Therefore, we will invest 5 billion Euros over the next decade in additional weed control solutions."
Bayer also has committed to reducing the crop science business’s environmental impact by 30% by 2030 through developing new technologies, scaling down crop protection volumes and enabling more precise application.
Going forward, Bayer also plans to roll out a pilot a program inviting scientists, journalists and NGO representatives to participate in its scientific preparation for the upcoming EU glyphosate re-registration process, which will start later this year. Bayer also committed to stiffer standards when it comes to selling pesticides, particularly in developing countries; The company will abide by regulations set by countries with some of the world's most well-developed programs, even if they exceed those set by particular governments.
"Our aim is to ensure that in developing countries we only commercialize products that meet the comprehensive safety and regulatory standards of a majority of reference authorities where registration is intended, while being sensitive to the fact that different countries have different needs, and we register different products and uses," Loder said.