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Agriculture

Bayer pledges a $5.5 billion investment in agriculture R&D

German giant seeks to counter Roundup debacle with promise of transparency and sustainability

by Alex Scott
June 19, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 25

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Bayer has unveiled a package of measures that it claims will demonstrate it is a responsible company with sustainable products and a transparent approach. The measures follow a swath of negative publicity that has dogged the company since its 2018 acquisition of Monsanto and a subsequent flurry of lawsuits linking Roundup, Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide, to cancer.

Underpinning the package is Bayer’s pledge to spend €5 billion (about $5.5 billion) over the next decade on novel herbicide technologies. This is equivalent to about 15% of the company’s annual R&D budget at current spending levels.

The money will fund chemistry R&D, new seeds and plant traits, plant breeding, and digital farming technologies. Along with other activities, the measures are intended to reduce the ecological footprint of Bayer’s agricultural portfolio 30% by 2030, the firm says.

Bayer will evaluate its progress using the Environmental Impact Quotient, a measuring system that relates volume to toxicity. Cornell University researchers developed the system in the 1990s.

The company also pledged to commercialize pesticides in developing countries only if they already meet the safety and regulatory standards of a majority of reference authorities.

In a bid to demonstrate its openness, the firm says it is “increasing transparency to address people’s questions” by, for example, inviting scientists, journalists, and nongovernmental organizations to attend European Union meetings for re-registering Roundup.

Some 13,400 US plaintiffs are claiming that Roundup caused them cancer. In one of the first legal cases, in May of this year, a California jury ordered Bayer to pay an elderly couple with cancer more than $2 billion in damages. Bayer is appealing.

Bayer’s stock market value has fallen by about 45%, or $44 billion, since it purchased Monsanto for $63 billion. The German firm has no plans to withdraw Roundup from the market, saying it has been used “safely and successfully” for decades.

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