Things are going very, very bad for Monsanto—and its newish parent company, Bayer—over the past year.
The company has lost three consecutive court battles—none of which are quite done, as the appeals process continues—to plaintiffs claiming that glyphosate, Monsanto’s biggest product, gave them cancer. The most recent one, in which a jury awarded a California couple $2 billion, sunk shares in Bayer to a seven-year low.
To combat the reams of bad press, Bayer issued a press release titled “Bayer raises the bar in transparency, sustainability and engagement.” In it, the company pledges to reduce its environmental impact by 30 percent by 2030. That would be measured with the Environmental Impact Quotient, which is a metric to test the ecological effects of pesticides. It’s both widely used and widely criticized; a 2015 study concluded, “In its current form, the EIQ is a poor measure of herbicide environmental impact.” Another paper found that it is literally as accurate as using random numbers.
“Bayer will seek to continuously improve the EIQ of its crop solutions by investing in world-class innovation for seeds and traits, digital farming, biological solutions and new low-residue and reduced rate application products,” reads the press release.
The company also says it will be devoting $5.6 billion in research into new weedkillers, an announcement that’s somewhat less impressive given that the company told CNBC that that amount was already part of the company’s budget.
Bayer also crowed, “Transparency is Bayer’s foundation.” Monsanto, though, has repeatedly been found to have hidden internal debate about the safety of glyphosate, and has been accused of elaborate tactics in the popular and scientific press to discredit negative conclusions about glyphosate. The company very recently landed in hot water for maintaining a list of hundreds of influential politicians and journalists considered to be either pro- or anti-pesticides.
On the plus side, in a concrete move, Bayer did pledge to stop selling pesticides in developing countries that are only legal there. Previously, the company would sell whatever was legal in any jurisdiction, even though for many developing nations, legislation was lax due to a lack of funds. In other words, a pesticide might have been legal in, say, Guatemala, because Guatemala is unable to implement strict safety standards, but that same pesticide would be illegal in the EU—and Bayer would sell that pesticide in Guatemala. The new pledge: Bayer “will only sell crop protection products in developing countries that meet both the safety standards of that local market and the safety standards of a majority of countries with well-developed programs to regulate crop protection products.” Good!
You can read the entire press release here.