German-based Bayer is commissioning an external law firm to investigate claims about its US agrochemical firm, Monsanto, assembling lists of influential journalists and lawmakers, criticising or making complaints about the company.
The pharmaceutical giant purchased the weed killer producer for $63 billion in 2018 and recently announced the move after an internal probe into the allegations made by the outlet Le Monde, which has reportedly resulted in a preliminary investigation by French authorities.
Bayer has addressed the concerns raised over the practices of its subsidiary Monsanto in a statement.
“This is not the way Bayer seeks dialogue with society and stakeholders. We apologise for this behavior”, the company stated, noting, however, that there was nothing illicit about the way Monsanto compiled such lists.
Last week, the Paris Prosecutor's Office reportedly launched a preliminary investigation into a leaked document of some 200 politicians, journalists, scientists, heads of trade unions, and public organisations who criticised or filed complaints against Monsanto. The so-called Monsanto File was obtained by France 2 TV and Le Monde, who pointed out that French law prohibits the gathering of a person’s political and philosophical views without their consent.
The lists, reportedly leaked by US public relations giant Fleishman-Hillard, contained detailed personal data, including phone numbers and addresses, as well as information about their stance regarding the substance glyphosate and extended permit to sell it. The document dates back to 2016, the time of the merger deal with Germany’s Bayer against the backdrop of the glyphosate uproar over the suspected carcinogenic effects in the key ingredient of Monsanto's top product Roundup.
Shortly after Bayer's purchase of Monsanto was finalised last year, a California court awarded $289 million to a school groundskeeper who claimed that the herbicide had been responsible for his cancer. The amount was later reduced to $78.5 million and the company continues to contest the court's decision, insisting that the US Environmental Protection Agency has deemed the herbicide safe.
Thousands of other Roundup users in the US have filed similar suits from customers who have cancer and attribute it to the weed killer. According to the German outlet Spiegel, since the merger and losing the case over Roundup’s possible cancerous effects Bayer has shed more than 30 billion euros from its market capitalisation.
However, apart from the US Environmental Protection Agency, glyphosate has been deemed safe by numerous international agencies, including the European Chemical Agency and the European Food Safety Authority. The permit for the use of the chemical in the EU agribusiness sector was extended for five years in 2017.