Bayer to continue selling Roundup weed killer in SA
Publish date: 09 April 2019
Issue Number: 600
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Controversial weed killer Roundup will still be sold in SA regardless of recent court decisions linking its use to cancer in humans, pharmaceuticals company Bayer said last week, writes Legalbrief. Bayer said that its subsidiary Monsanto will continue to sell its Roundup weed killer in SA despite a US jury last month awarding nearly $80m to a man who claimed it had given him cancer. A TimesLIVE report notes that, according to court documents, Edwin Hardeman used Roundup for 30 years. Though no direct link between Hardeman's cancer and Roundup has been confirmed, the jury voted in his favour on the basis that there were insufficient warnings about the risk of using the product. Last year, a jury awarded Dewayne Johnson, who has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, $78m in damages for his exposure to Roundup. Magda du Toit, corporate engagement manager for Bayer SA, said: ‘We are disappointed with the jury's decision, but this verdict does not change the weight of over four decades of extensive science and the conclusions of regulators worldwide that support the safety of our glyphosate-based herbicides and that they are not carcinogenic. The verdict has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances. Bayer stands behind our products and will vigorously defend them,’ she added.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said although it was aware of the developments in the Roundup case in the US it was not looking to have the products removed from SA shelves unless it received compelling information. However, Rico Euripidou, the environmental health campaign manager at groundWork, a non-profit environmental justice organisation, said most farm workers in SA were not properly informed about Roundup's hazardous properties, sometimes couldn't read or understand the labels, and did not have equipment to protect them from exposure.
But Spier Wine Estate farmer Angus McIntosh does, and he wants the use of glyphosate, the main ingredient in many weed killers, banned. A Cape Argus report notes that most maize crops in SA are genetically modified and are sprayed with weed killers containing glyphosate. McIntosh, who runs the Farmer Angus butchery on 126 ha of land on the estate in Stellenbosch, said glyphosate had received attention around the world for its negative effects. ‘SA is the only country ... where the population’s staple diet – maize – is genetically modified. These maize crops are just one of the many crops that are being sprayed with glyphosate which eventually ends up in our food and water sources,’ said McIntosh. ‘People don’t know what they are eating. Essentially they are being forced to eat genetically modified food, laced with poison,’ he said. Last month, Miami announced its ban on glyphosate, as did the Indian State of Kerala in February, and France in January. Many other governments around the world have either placed restrictions on or have issued a statement of their intention to ban it. However, Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, of the agriculture industry association, CropLife SA, said there was no reason to ban glyphosate. ‘Banning glyphosate is like switching all the lights off for ever to save the world – it is simply stupid. Without glyphosate, we would have serious weed problems and plant disease and plant pest problems as weeds contribute significantly to plant diseases and plant pests,’ said Verdoorn.
Meanwhile Bayer has mounted a campaign to reassure staff and shareholders that it can contain the fallout over Roundup. However, an advisory group has urged investors to protest against management’s actions and pay. According to a report in The Times, CEO Werner Baumann held a conference call with employees around the world this week, assuring them that the 155-year-old German company will weather the challenge despite a second loss in US courts, according to people familiar with the situation. Investor trust in Baumann is slipping, with proxy adviser Glass Lewis & Co questioning Baumann’s bonus and urging a vote of no confidence in him and other executives at Bayer’s annual meeting this month. A Bayer representative declined to comment on internal communication. The company has repeatedly said it will defend Roundup vigorously and that scientific studies have shown its key ingredient, the chemical called glyphosate, to be safe. More than 11 200 lawsuits in the US seek to link the herbicide to cancer. There is potential for the glyphosate cases to further erode value for shareholders, Glass Lewis said.