Amid mounting health concerns surrounding the herbicide glyphosate, Bayer AG has announced it will invest $5.6 billion over the next 10 years into finding alternatives to its widely-used weed killer Roundup.
“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,” according to a statement Bayer released in June.
The announcement follows Bayer’s ongoing public relations in the face of mounting litigation involving Roundup, which is glyphosate-based. According to Bloomberg, there are currently more than 18,000 lawsuits claiming the herbicide causes cancer.
Bayer, which bought Roundup’s creator, agrochemical and biotechnology corporation Monsanto, last year, has already lost three high-profile court cases with damages totaling more than $190 million,CBS News reported last week. According to NPR, the company’s stock has fallen $40 billion since the first verdict.
The fourth trial, which is taking place in Monsanto’s former hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, is set to begin on Aug. 19. However, Reuters reported that Bayer expects the case to be postponed.
“Bayer has not proposed paying $8 billion to settle all the U.S. Roundup cancer claims. Such a statement is pure fiction,” mediator Ken Feinberg said in an email to Reuters. “Compensation has not even been discussed in the global mediation discussions.”
Roundup has been on the market since 1974 and is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world.
A 2016 report published in the scientific journal Environmental Sciences Europe found that more than 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate have been applied to crops since 1974 with two-thirds of that volume having been sprayed in the last 10 years.
In 2015, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the chemical as "probably carcinogenic to humans.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated it is not a public health risk. However, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, noted some links to cancer in the draft of its glyphosate toxicological profile this past April.
Bayer has stated its investment in glyphosate alternatives will include focusing on “improving the understanding of resistance mechanisms” and “discovering and developing new modes of actions.”