Bayer's Roundup weedkiller and its active ingredient glyphosate is probably the most widely used agricultural chemical in history. Roundup was introduced by Monsanto to farmers back in 1974. But it wasn't until 1996 that the Roundup revolution exploded when Monsanto started selling soybean seeds resistant to the herbicide.
If there's one thing I've learned in covering agriculture over the last 20 years is that farmers love, love, LOVE Roundup; it was considered by producers to be less toxic and more environmentally friendly than lots of other applications used by farmers.
Some 94 percent of U.S. soybeans and 90 percent of U.S. corn are resistant to glyphosate.
And the U.S. Geological Survey reports glyphosate usage nationwide has exploded from just under 14 million pounds in 1992 to 287 million pounds in 2016. Can ya feel the love?
In my estimation it was in part that farmer love that convinced Bayer to buy out Monsanto and Roundup for $63 billion back in 2018.
Not to mention that Roundup sales could reach staggering world sales of $12 billion by 2024.
But Bayer has also been dealt a busted flush.
Consumer protection groups have been warning about potential cancer health risks associated with glyphosate almost from day one. But it wasn't until 2015 when the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on cancer reviewed public studies and concluded glyphosate probably can cause cancer.
So now those those chickens have come home to roost. In the last year Bayer has lost three massive lawsuits claiming glyphosate caused cancer.
That has Bayer panicked and stockholders ratcheting up pressure demanding the company stop the Roundup litigation train.
In May, U.S. district judge Vince Chhabira ordered Bayer and plaintiffs to find a mediator to assist in deciding where trials should be litigated, be it at state courts or federal courts in which they were originally filed.
Ultimately I think Bayer will play the long game. All that farmer love for Roundup – especially worldwide – is probably enough for Bayer to one day approve a multi-billion dollar massive class action settlement in the United States
Meanwhile Bayer continues to maintain to anyone who will listen that decades of scientific studies have repeatedly shown glyphosate is oh-so-safe.
Make no mistake about it. Bayer likes glyphosate regardless of the legal exposure.
To that end Bayer won approval in August to open a new phosphate mine in Caribou County,Idaho to eventually replace its current phosphate mine which is expected to be tapped out by 2022.
Don't expect Bayer to stop producing Roundup.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for the Midwest Center covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.