When it comes to recent federal court rulings on Bayer AG core herbicides glyphosate and dicamba Bayer is now 0-for-4.
Most recently – this past February to be exact – a Missouri federal jury awarded $15 million in comensatory damanges and $250 million in punitive danages to the largest peach farm in Missouri, which successfully argued Bayer's dicamba herbicide drifted from neighboring fields causing extensive damage on 1,000 acres of peach orchards.
Bayer and co-defendant BASF are challenging the verdict in appellate court and how that turns out is a coin-flip. But with more than a hundred other dicamba drift cases waiting in the wings, Bayer finds itself in a difficult position.
A number of those dicamba related cases are seeking class action status before U.S District Court Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. which ultimately could represent not hundreds but thousands of farmers – both row crop and specialty crop.
If that is not enough Bayer has lost three consecutive cases defending Roundup and its active chemical glyphosate. Bayer acquired the glyphosate headache when it purchased Roundup manufacturer Monsanto in 2018 for $63 billion. Since then it's been nothing but trouble.
Seeing the handwriting on the federal court wall Bayer is doing its best to plug the lawsuit deluge by attempting to hammer out a settlement proposal with current and potential future litigants. Several pending trials have been postponed in recent weeks as information trickles out of Bayer central that it's working on a global settlement worrth rougly $10 billion dollars.
Confidential conversations are ongoing with lawyers representing thousands of potential Roundup plantiffs. Whether the deal comes to fruition or falls apart is anyone's guess at the moment.
If Bayer pulls that off it should consider itself both lucky and fortunate. Simple math tells the story. There are some 13,000 lawusits against Bayer/Monsanto and glyphosate. For argument sake say Bayer loses half the cases – 6,500. Multiple that by an average reward of $100 million dollars. That's $650 BILLION. Bayer's only course of action at that point is the bankruptcy courts.
So how does Bayer get out of the herbicide death trap? The obvious answer is stop producing both glyphosate and dicamba and invent something new.
Overshadowed in the news of Bayer's massive loss to Bader Farms was the company's announcement that its R and D folk are developing a new herbicide weed killing molecule .
Bayer R and D head Bob Reiter says the new molecule can kill some weeds that have become tolerant of glyphosate – but he adds the new molecule will not replace glyphosate. And Reiter stressed that public complaints against dicamba and glyphosate isn't driving the company to produce alternatives.
Well so much for the idea of ditching glyphosate and dicabma for something new and improved.
Last April Bayer stockholders roasted chief executive Werner Baumann after his handling of the glyphosate cases cut share value by some 40%.
Now a year later Bayer hasn't ended the glyphosate merry-go-round and has a new problem in dicamba. Anyone want to bet Baumann won't be facing rabid stockholders later this spring. Yeah, not me either.
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.