In a startling development, multinational pharma company Bayer has publicly admitted that biotech company Monsanto, which it purchased for $63 billion in 2018, had been keeping ‘watch lists’ on influential people across Europe. The firm’s announcement follows prosecutors in France revealing they have opened an investigation over allegations Monsanto had maintained records on 200 French people, including politicians and journalists, with the goal of influencing their positions on pesticides and GM crops. With Bayer already facing potential multibillion-dollar damage payments to patients who developed cancer after using Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, the revelation adds to the deepening crisis surrounding the pharma company’s takeover of the controversial biotech giant.
The secret files were apparently kept on people from at least seven different European countries. Said to be compiled for Monsanto by PR agency FleishmanHillard, the countries concerned include France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Stakeholders related to Brussels EU institutions are also believed to have been included on the lists.
In a further Monsanto-related development, a jury in California recently ordered Bayer to pay more than $2 billion to Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a couple who developed cancer after using Roundup. This was the third time that Bayer has been ordered to pay cancer damages in California over the toxic weedkiller, and the highest amount yet awarded. In the other two cases, Dewayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper, was awarded $289 million last year, later reduced to $78 million on a legal technicality, while Edwin Hardeman was awarded $80 million in March of this year. Both men developed cancer after using the chemical.
With an additional 13,400 Roundup-related lawsuits outstanding against Bayer in state and federal courts in the United States, its share price having plummeted over the past year and even its credit rating now under scrutiny, the company’s future is undeniably at threat. In this respect, the recent launching of a lawsuit in Australia, related to a gardener in Melbourne who developed cancer after using the weedkiller, seems likely to further deepen Bayer’s problems by encouraging the filing of additional cases in yet more countries.
While Bayer boss Werner Baumann has continued to brazenly claim the purchase of Monsanto was a ‘good idea’, even the company’s major shareholders would appear to no longer believe this. Prior to a key vote at Bayer’s recent annual general meeting, fund manager Blackrock announced it wouldn’t be backing the firm’s management. As Bayer’s largest shareholder, Blackrock’s statement was intended to send a clear message to the company’s board that it wasn’t happy with the way the Monsanto deal had been handled. Subsequently, more than 55 percent of shareholders voted against absolving Bayer’s board for its actions in the takeover.
Tellingly, however, the unprecedented no-confidence vote against Baumann’s leadership was essentially ignored by Bayer’s supervisory board. As a result, a shareholder rebellion is underway, and the board has been facing calls for the firm to be broken up. With potential cancer damages over Roundup running to tens of billions of dollars or more, the vultures are clearly beginning to circle over Bayer.
Could this be the beginning of the end for the firm whose wartime roles in IG Farben and Auschwitz infamously led to its managers standing trial in Nuremberg for war crimes and crimes against humanity? While it’s too early to say for sure, Bayer is undoubtedly now fighting for its life.