In June, German agrochemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, plagued by a string of drug and medical device safety scandals in recent decades, acquired St. Louis-based Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of controversial genetically-modified (GMO) crops including soy, corn and sugar beets.
The $66 billion megamerger is the single largest cash transaction in history, creating the biggest seed and agrochemical company on the planet controlling more than one-quarter of the global market, and raising anti-trust concerns on both sides of the Atlantic.
Monsanto's Reputation, Claims of Health Negligence
Bayer asserts that the merger will advance agricultural innovation for the benefit of farmers, consumers and the environment. Experts warn that consumers could see an increase in food prices.
To satisfy the Department of Justice, Bayer sold some of its assets, such as its glufosinate weed-killer business, prior to the merger. Glufosinate competes directly with Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate) weed-killer, which Monsanto’s GMO crops are designed to withstand. In August, in a groundbreaking California lawsuit, Monsanto was found liable for DeWayne Johnson’s terminal cancer resulting from exposure to Roundup and ordered to pay $289 million to Johnson. Glyphosate has been found in urine, blood and breast milk, and has been in the news recently for its presence in oat products such as Cheerios, Quaker Oats and Nature Valley bars.
In recent years Monsanto has earned a reputation as the “most hated company in the world” due to practices aggressively promoting the safety of GMOs without longitudinal studies demonstrating their long-term effects on human health. The company has also sued family farmers for unauthorized use of patented Monsanto GMO seeds inadvertently windblown onto their fields. A 2017 report in The Guardian asserts that Monsanto knowingly sold PCBs, toxic industrial chemicals, long after the company was aware of their detrimental public health and environmental impacts.
And the list goes on.
Monsanto has a long history of public condemnation and outcry stemming from production of highly-toxic chemicals including Agent Orange, the Vietnam War deforestation agent that resulted in devastating environmental and human health problems, and DDT, an insecticide banned in 1972 that was exposed in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” a seminal book widely credited for triggering the modern environmental movement.
Bayer immediately dropped the Monsanto name following the merger.
Bayer Indicated in Lawsuits for Essure Problems
But the Bayer name itself is hardly untarnished. During World War II, Bayer was part of a consortium that produced the Zyklon B pesticide for Hitler’s gas chambers.
Today, Bayer manufactures Coppertone suntan lotions and the Dr. Scholls’ line of footcare products, as well as common over-the-counter brand-name drugs such as Alka-Seltzer, Aleve, Afrin, Claritin, and of course, Bayer Aspirin.
Bayer has been the subject of scrutiny – and lawsuits representing more than 16,000 patients – for the Essure System for Permanent Birth Control, the first and only nonsurgical sterilization option for women. Reported impacts from using the tiny metal coils, which are inserted into the fallopian tubes, include perforation of the uterus and fallopian tubes, organ puncture, autoimmune issues, hysterectomy and fetal and adult death.
In July, Bayer announced it was withdrawing Essure from the market solely for business reasons, including the trend toward reversible birth control methods, and not because of any safety or health concerns. However, more than 30,000 women have taken to Facebook to share their experiences of complications.
Essure will go off the market at the end of 2018. The United States is the last country where Essure is sold.
Other Bayer drugs linked to serious health risks include the stroke and blood clot prevention drug Xarelto, and Yaz birth control pills.