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Bayer CEO Says Company Faces 13,400 Roundup Suits

Bayer AG’s chief executive officer on Friday said the company faces 13,400 suits over the weedkiller Roundup as he defended last year’s $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto to shareholders at an annual meeting.

Werner Baumann said that as of April 11 about 13,400 lawsuits have been filed over Roundup, according to a speech prepared for the shareholder’s meeting in Bonn, Germany.

While the number of lawsuits and two jury verdicts against the company are a heavy burden, and shareholders have seen a substantial decline in stock value, Baumann said the current share price does not reflect the true value of the company.

“We can’t promise you any full clarification on this in the short term,” Baumann said. “But I can assure you that we are working relentlessly to successfully defend ourselves in the appeal proceedings and the coming trials and thus to reduce the uncertainty regarding the outcome of the liability litigation.”

Before Bayer acquired Monsanto, its management board assessed the risks of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and concluded the liability risk for the chemical was low, Baumann said.

“Farmers throughout the world are using glyphosate responsibly to protect their harvests and provide people with food,” Baumann said. “For these reasons we will continue to vigorously defend glyphosate — also on behalf of our customers.”

Monsanto has appealed the first jury verdict of $289 million, later slashed to $78.5 million, to DeWayne “Lee” Johnson, who claimed the weedkiller caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The company will also appeal the $80 million verdict in the first federal bellwether trial, Baumann said.

Although the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 concluded glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators worldwide have found otherwise, Monsanto contends.

But 55% of shareholders voted against backing the board of management’s actions in the last year, signaling a lack of investor confidence in the company’s management, though the vote does not have any legal consequences for members of the board.

At a meeting Friday evening, Bayer’s supervisory board backed the management board and approved the company’s strategy regarding Roundup.

“While we take the outcome of the vote at the annual stockholders’ meeting very seriously, Bayer’s supervisory board unanimously stands behind the board of management,” Werner Wenning, the supervisory board’s chair, said in a statement.

A number of shareholders have questioned whether the management board carried out its responsibilities when it assessed the legal risks of glyphosate, but the supervisory board is convinced that it did, Wenning said.

Two legal experts, Linklaters LLP and Mathias Habersack of the Ludwig Maximilian University, have also concluded the management board met its legal obligations in the acquisition, he said.