Bayer Close to $10 Billion Roundup Settlement?

Canceled court cases fuel speculation

  • Bayer Close to $10 Billion Roundup Settlement? (c) ShutterstockBayer Close to $10 Billion Roundup Settlement? (c) Shutterstock

Signs have been multiplying recently that Bayer is close to an out-of-court settlement of US plaintiffs’ claims that Monsanto’s legacy herbicide Roundup caused their cancer.

In December 2019, it was revealed that a symbolically significant case due to be heard in Monsanto’s US hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, before the end of the year had been delayed until Jan. 24, 2020, The court date was later canceled.

Bayer has meanwhile confirmed that a trial set to begin on Feb. 24 in a San Francisco, California, federal court will also not open on that date as scheduled. It has also asked a California appeals court to overturn an award of $86 million to a California couple in a Roundup trial dating from May 2019.

The newspaper Wall Street Journal, citing sources, now reports that Bayer is aiming to settle all present and future lawsuits for $10 billion, with several analysts commenting that the sum would be “positive” for the Leverkusen-based group.

From the start, management has been reluctant to settle out of court, expressing confidence that its argument that the glyphosate-based herbicide is safe to use and does not cause cancer will eventually hold sway.

CEO Werner Baumann said in December he expected appeals courts to begin reversing or adjusting the three US verdicts that awarded a total of $2.4 billion to plaintiffs. While some awards have been revised downward, an overturn of the judgments has remained elusive.

As yet, Bayer has declined to comment on how much it is willing to pay or a time frame for a settlement, but observers believe something will be announced well ahead of the annual general meeting scheduled for Apr. 28. Without positive news, Baumann could face another no-confidence vote, although its share price has recovered from its earlier steep plunge.

The erstwhile chemicals giant now focused on life sciences has been in mediation over the Roundup litigation since 2019. Last month, court-appointed mediator Ken Feinberg estimated the number of pending cases at 75,000, though Bayer said the total was “under 50,000.” Its last officially communicated figure was 42,700, with all plaintiffs in the US.

EPA Renews Glyphosate Registration

In a bit of news already positive for the world’s largest agrochemicals manufacturer, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in late January renewed the registration of glyphosate, finding that the controversial compound presents “low or limited” potential risks to birds and mammals.

The US environmental watchdog, which has lost much of its bite during the presidency of Donald Trump, said it had found “insufficient evidence to conclude that glyphosate plays a role in any human disease.”

While Bayer managing board member Liam Condon, who has responsibility for the group’s agriculture business, commented that the EPA’s latest decision “adds to the long-term evaluation of leading international health authorities that these products are safe and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic,” environmental and health NGOs take a different view.

“The Trump EPA’s assertion that glyphosate poses no risks to human health disregards independent science findings in favor of confidential industry results and profits,” said Lori Ann Burd, director of environmental health at the US Center for Biological Diversity.

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