from the don't-worry...-just-take-two-Bayer®-asprin-and...-oh,-wait dept.
These days Monsanto is shorthand for, as NPR's Dan Charles has put it, "lots of things that some people love to hate": Genetically modified crops, which Monsanto invented. Seed patents, which Monsanto has fought to defend. Herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup, which protesters have sharply criticized for its possible health risks. Big agriculture in general, of which Monsanto was the reviled figurehead.
And soon Monsanto will be no more. Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant and pesticide powerhouse, announced in 2016 it would be buying Monsanto in an all-cash deal for more than $60 billion. Now, as the merger approaches, Bayer has confirmed what many suspected: In the merger, the politically charged name "Monsanto" will be disappearing. The combined company will be known simply as Bayer, while product names will remain the same. The move is not exactly a surprise — it makes sense that Bayer might want to weed out some of the intense negative associations associated with the Monsanto brand. In a way, it's an indication of how successful anti-Monsanto protesters have been in shaping public perception.
In the company's latest statement, Bayer implicitly acknowledged how hostile debates over genetically modified crops and other agricultural products have become. "We aim to deepen our dialogue with society. We will listen to our critics and work together where we find common ground," the chairman of Bayer's board of management, Werner Baumann, said in the statement. "Agriculture is too important to allow ideological differences to bring progress to a standstill. We have to talk to each other. We need to listen to each other. It's the only way to build bridges."
Also at Reuters.
Roundup: Monsanto Ordered to Pay $93M to Small Town for Poisoning Citizens
RoundUp Glyphosate Found to Cause Kidney Failure and Elude Tests
Cancer Hazard vs. Risk - Glyphosate
Use of Dicamba-Resistant Monsanto Crops Leads to Soybean Death
GMO Grass That 'Escaped' Defies Eradication, Divides Grass Seed Industry
Glyphosate Linked to Liver Damage
Natural Society reports
The West Virginia State Supreme Court finalized a big blow to the biotech giant Monsanto this month, finishing a settlement causing Monsanto to pay $93 million to the tiny town of Nitro, West Virginia for poisoning citizens with Agent Orange chemicals. The settlement was approved last year, but details were worked out only weeks ago as to how the funds were to be spent.
The settlement will require Monsanto to do the following:
- $9 million will be spent to clean dioxin contaminated dust from 4500 homes.
- $21 million will be spent to test to see if people have been poisoned with dioxin.
- Citizens will be monitored for such poisoning for 30 years, not just a few months.
- An additional $63 million is to be allotted if additional tests for dioxin contamination testing is necessary.
- Anyone who lived in the Nitro area between Jan. 1, 1948, and Sept. 3, 2010 will be tested for dioxin. Although they must show proof they lived in the area, they will be eligible for testing even if they no longer live in Nitro.
- Former or present employees of Monsanto are not eligible for any of these benefits.
- An office will be set up to organize testing for Nitro citizens. The registration of participants is to be overlooked by Charleston attorney Thomas Flaherty, who was appointed by the court.
- Residents have a right to file individual suits against Monsanto if medical tests show they suffered physical harm due to dioxin exposure.
Monsanto's RoundUp, a widely used pesticide, uses the active ingredient Glyphosate and it may be up for another serious beating. Medical specialists and scientists in Sri Lanka has found that when glyphosate comes in contact with heavy metals like cadmium, arsenic, manganese and cobalt which exist naturally in the soil or fertilizer, it becomes highly toxic and has a high likelihood of causing fatal kidney disease for anyone that comes into contact with it. And because the substance binds to metals it will not show up in current tests. The report (and another one) is published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and has resulted in that the Sri Lanka president to ban glyphosate immediately.
Exposure to glyphosate causes a drop in amino acid tryptophan levels, which interrupts the necessary active signalling of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with weight gain, depression, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. The report show that industry and regulators knew as long ago as the 1980's and 1990's that glyphosate causes malformation, but that information was not made public. Glyphosate is also a teratogenic.
Monsanto has been in the news quite recently.
Monsanto announced that it has received an unsolicited purchase offer from Bayer AG. The offer is under consideration by Monsanto's board of directors. The companies are both major sellers of pesticides and of seeds for crops. Monsanto's market capitalisation on 18 May was $42.43 billion.
According to Dow Jones Business News via NASDAQ:
Folding Monsanto's world-leading seed franchise and its trademark Roundup herbicide business into Bayer would create a company with a combined $68 billion in annual sales, marketing products ranging from Aspirin pain-relief pills to crop genetics that enable plants to withstand bugs and weedkillers. The combination would sell about 28% of the world's pesticides and about 36% of U.S. corn seeds and 28% of soybean seeds, according to Morgan Stanley estimates.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- Motley Fool
- New York Times (older story)
- Bloomberg (older story)
- USA Today (older story)
- Fierce Pharma (older story)
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch (older story)
- MarketWatch (older story)
Cartoonist Fired for Criticizing Big Agriculture
The early release of a variety of soybeans resistant to the herbicide dicamba has led to criminal spraying and the death of normal soybean crops:
Dicamba has been around for decades, and it is notorious for a couple of things: It vaporizes quickly and blows with the wind. And it's especially toxic to soybeans, even at ridiculously low concentrations. Damage from drifting pesticides isn't unfamiliar to farmers. But the reason for this year's plague of dicamba damage is unprecedented. "I've never seen anything like this before," says Bob Scott, a weed specialist from the University of Arkansas. "This is a unique situation that Monsanto created."
The story starts with Monsanto because the St. Louis-based biotech giant launched, this year, an updated version of its herbicide-tolerant soybean seeds. This new version, which Monsanto calls "Xtend," isn't just engineered to tolerate sprays of glyphosate, aka Roundup. It's also immune to dicamba.
Monsanto created dicamba-resistant soybeans (and cotton) in an effort to stay a step ahead of the weeds. The strategy of planting Roundup-resistant crops and spraying Roundup to kill weeds isn't working so well anymore, because weeds have evolved resistance to glyphosate. Adding genes for dicamba resistance, so the thinking went, would give farmers the option of spraying dicamba as well, which would clear out the weeds that survive glyphosate. There was just one hitch in the plan. A very big hitch, as it turned out. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet approved the new dicamba weedkiller that Monsanto created for farmers to spray on its new dicamba-resistant crops. That new formulation of dicamba, according to Monsanto, has been formulated so that it won't vaporize as easily, and won't be as likely to harm neighboring crops. If the EPA approves the new weedkiller, it may impose restrictions on how and when the chemical may be used.
But, Monsanto went ahead and started selling its dicamba-resistant soybeans before this herbicide was approved. It gave farmers a new weed-killing tool that they couldn't legally use.
German drugs and crop chemicals company Bayer has won over U.S. seeds firm Monsanto with an improved takeover offer of $66 billion including debt, ending months of wrangling after increasing its bid for a third time. The $128 a share deal announced on Wednesday, up from Bayer's previous offer of $127.50 a share, is the biggest of the year so far and the largest cash bid on record.
The transaction will create a company commanding more than a quarter of the combined world market for seeds and pesticides in a fast-consolidating farm supplies industry. However, competition authorities are likely to scrutinize the tie-up closely, and some of Bayer's own shareholders have been critical of a takeover plan which they say is too expensive and risks neglecting the company's pharmaceutical business.
"Bayer's competitors are merging, so not doing this deal would mean having a competitive disadvantage," said Markus Manns, a fund manager at Union Investment, one of Bayer's top 12 investors, according to ThomsonReuters data.
Sometime around 2003 Scotts GMO grass crop in Idaho escaped its plot and blew across the Snake River into Oregon up to 30 miles away. The crop in question is a Roundup ready creeping bentgrass that is used for putting greens. Regulators and locals are in for a fight as Scotts is ready to abandon the ongoing approximately $250,000 per year effort to eradicate the grass in favor of running an informative website on Roundup ready bentgrass removal. Scotts canceled the development program because the golf industry is experiencing a decline, yet the company still wants the product deregulated.
Locals are left holding the bag as it threatens Oregon's international reputation as a "GMO-free" grass-grower and its seed industry. Regardless of whether direct genetic modification is bad in and of itself, grasses are an important crop for the state. Additionally, the grass has been found interbreeding with other feral grasses. Interestingly, the company has hired an attorney that specializes in bio-diversity to defend its interests.
The battle pits farmer against farmer, regulator against regulator, seller against buyer. Scotts spokesman Jim King insists the company has done its part and significantly reduced the modified grass's territory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which for 14 years had refused to deregulate the controversial grass on environmental concerns, suddenly reversed course last fall and signaled it could grant the company's request as early as this week.
Many find the prospect alarming. The Oregon and Idaho departments of agriculture oppose deregulation, as does U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which predicted commercialization of the grass could drive endangered species to extinction.
UK scientists say they have conducted an unprecedented, long-term study showing a link between Roundup - one of the most widely used herbicides in the world - and severe liver damage in test rats.
The research sparked further debate in the international scientific community over the potential health hazards to people caused by exposure to the well-known weed killer.
Scientists from King's College London, whose findings were published in the journal, Nature , earlier this month, said their tests used cutting-edge technology to demonstrate that "extremely low doses" of the herbicide administered to rats through their drinking water had caused "non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)" over a two-year period.
NAFLD can lead to more serious liver disease such as cirrhosis, and increases the risk of other illnesses including diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.
"The study is unique in that it is the first to show a causative link between consumption of Roundup at a real-world environmental dose and a serious disease condition," the report said.
In recent years, there have been an increasing number of studies alleging links between herbicides - used to help grow genetically modified crops - to a wide range of health issues including birth defects, reproductive and neurological problems, cancer, and even DNA damage. Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, has repeatedly denied the accusations , insisting the product is safe for humans. A number of scientists and researchers say there has been insufficient evidence to prove herbicides cause health problems for people.
Monsanto has long worked to "bully scientists" and suppress evidence of the cancer risks of its popular weedkiller, a lawyer argued on Monday in a landmark lawsuit against the global chemical corporation.
"Monsanto has specifically gone out of its way to bully ... and to fight independent researchers," said the attorney Brent Wisner, who presented internal Monsanto emails that he said showed how the agrochemical company rejected critical research and expert warnings over the years while pursuing and helping to write favorable analyses of their products. "They fought science."
Wisner, who spoke inside a crowded San Francisco courtroom, is representing DeWayne Johnson, known also as Lee, a California man whose cancer has spread through his body. The father of three and former school groundskeeper, who doctors say may have just months to live, is the first person to take Monsanto to trial over allegations that the chemical sold under the Roundup brand is linked to cancer. Thousands have made similar legal claims across the US.
Monsanto? Never heard of it.
Also at the San Francisco Chronicle.
[The WHO] and the Food and Agriculture Organization have come out with a statement that glyphosate is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk in humans". And this only a year after another UN agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, stated what looks like the exact opposite, that it could "probably" be a cause of cancer in humans. Later on last year, the European Food Safety Authority said that glyphosate is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard".
[...] the difference is that the IARC is looking at the question from a "Is there any possible way, under any conditions at all, that glyphosate could be a carcinogen?", while the FAO and WHO are giving an answer to the questions "Is glyphosate actually causing cancer in people?"
[...] "Risk", technically speaking, refers to your chances of being harmed under real-world conditions, while "hazard" refers to the potential for harm.
Under real-world conditions, eating a normal amount of bacon raise your risk of colorectal cancer by an amount too small to consider. But it does appear to be raising it by a reproducible, measurable amount, and therefore bacon (and other processed meats) are in the IARC's category 1.
[...] It's important to note that some hypothetical substance that reproducibly, in human studies, gives anyone cancer every single time they touch it would also be in category 1, the same as a hypothetical substance that reproducibly, in human studies, raises a person's risk of cancer by one millionth of a per cent. Same category. These categories are not arranged by relative risk – they're arranged by how good the evidence is. Glyphosate is in category 2A, which means that there is evidence from animal studies, but limited/insufficient evidence from humans as of yet.
[...] So yes, by the standards of the available evidence, glyphosate is in the same cancer hazard category as working the night shift, or working as a hairdresser.
TFA is interesting and worth a read, especially for its use of a shark analogy explaining the difference between risk and hazard.
Link: Glyphosate And Cancer By Derek Lowe
Additional Wired link: Does Monsanto's Roundup Herbicide Cause Cancer or Not? The Controversy, Explained
Monsanto ordered to pay $289 million in California Roundup cancer trial
A California jury on Friday found Monsanto liable in a lawsuit filed by a man who alleged the company's glyphosate-based weed-killers, including Roundup, caused him cancer and ordered the company to pay $289 million in damages.
The case of school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson was the first lawsuit alleging glyphosate causes cancer to go to trial. Monsanto, a unit of Bayer AG following a $62.5 billion acquisition by the German conglomerate, faces more than 5,000 similar lawsuits across the United States.
The jury at San Francisco's Superior Court of California deliberated for three days before finding that Monsanto had failed to warn Johnson and other consumers of the cancer risks posed by its weed killers.
It awarded $39 million in compensatory and $250 million in punitive damages.
Monsanto Ordered to Pay $289 Million to Man Who Claimed Glyphosate Caused His Cancer
Chemical giant Monsanto has been ordered to pay $289m (£226m) damages to a man who claimed herbicides containing glyphosate had caused his cancer.
In a landmark case, a Californian jury found that Monsanto knew its Roundup and RangerPro weedkillers were dangerous and failed to warn consumers. It's the first lawsuit to go to trial alleging a glyphosate link to cancer.
Monsanto denies that glyphosate causes cancer and says it intends to appeal against the ruling. "The jury got it wrong," vice-president Scott Partridge said outside the courthouse in San Francisco.
The claimant in the case, groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, is among more than 5,000 similar plaintiffs across the US.
Monsanto? Never heard of it. Did you mean Bayer AG?
Related: Glyphosate Linked to Liver Damage