Bayer expects its third quarter report to show a “significant surge” in Roundup lawsuits filed against the company.
JP Morgan analysts have predicted the number of claims in the United States could top 45,000. Bayer faced 18,400 lawsuits related to the pesticide as of July, according its last quarterly report.
The latest report, which is expected to go public Oct. 30, comes as more communities are banning or restricting Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides.
But numbers from the federal government show Roundup’s use has continued to increase in the United States since a United Nations agency said the weed killer’s active ingredient — glyphosate — probably causes cancer. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has twice found no cancer link.
And despite the lawsuits, cancer concerns and bans, multiple market analysts predict glyphosate use will increase by 6 percent every year for the next five years.
Bayer Looks to Settle Roundup Lawsuits in 2020
Of the more 18,400 Roundup lawsuits filed against Bayer as of July, 1,325 had been consolidated in mass litigation in a California federal court. The number of cases in the mass litigation has since grown to 2,323, according to an Oct. 15 report from the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.
Trials in the lawsuits were put on hold in August after Bayer and lawyers in the California litigation announced they were working on a settlement. The court plans to reevaluate the status of settlement talks on Feb. 10, 2020, if no agreement is reached.
Bayer has lost three U.S. lawsuits claiming its widely used pesticide caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma in people who spent years working around Roundup. Jury verdicts have totaled more than $2.3 billion. But each has been reduced significantly on appeal to a total of about $190 million.
Media reports in August suggested Bayer had floated an $8 billion settlement plan for all cases. But the mediator in the settlement talks dismissed the reports as “pure fiction” in an interview with Law360.
New Lawsuits Target Roundup Retailers
Attorneys filed a Roundup class action lawsuit against hardware retailer Lowe’s in September. The lawsuit was filed in Arkansas federal court on behalf of Arkansas and California consumers. Attorney Steve Harrelson also filed a similar class action against Walmart in August.
Another class action filed in August in a California federal court seeks similar damages for people who purchased Roundup at Home Depot stores.
The lawsuits claim the stores sold Roundup without warning customers of potential cancer risks the pesticide poses.
Cities and Counties Step Up Roundup Bans
Spurred by cancer worries, a wave of cities, counties, school districts and other local government bodies have passed partial or complete bans on glyphosate’s use since 2015. More than 40 communities in California alone have adopted or are considering bans, according to California Public Research Interest Group, a California-based consumer advocacy group.
Local governments can only ban or restrict use on government-owned property. Roundup and glyphosate-based herbicides are still available in stores and allowed for private use. Many of the local bans and restrictions include a wide variety of toxic pesticides in addition to glyphosate.
Most bans took effect following the International Agency for Research on Cancer announcement in 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” A notable exception is Portland, Oregon. The city restricted glyphosate to emergency-use only in 1988.
Small- and medium-sized communities were among the first to enact Roundup bans. But larger jurisdictions have begun to follow suit more recently.
Boulder, Colorado; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Evanston, Illinois, were among localities listed in a 2017 report from the consumer group U.S. PIRG as places where people could live “Roundup-Free.” In 2018, Austin, Texas, and Portland, Maine, banned glyphosate.
By October 2019, Seattle, Miami and Los Angeles County had all banned or restricted Roundup and other glyphosate-based pesticides on public property. The East Bay Regional Park District in Oakland, California, also announced it would eliminate glyphosate usage on its 73 parks comprising 125,000 acres by the end of 2020.
Farmers Stick with Roundup Amid Lawsuits, Bans and Cancer Worries
Despite lawsuits, new regulations and cancer concerns, glyphosate remains popular with farmers because it works well on large crops.
Since Roundup’s introduction in the 1970s, glyphosate has become the most widely used agricultural chemical ever. The United States Geological Survey reports farmers used 287 million pounds of glyphosate in 2016, the year for which the latest data is available.
Almost two-thirds of that was in just 12 Midwestern states, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. The center estimates farmers in those states sprayed 40 times more glyphosate in 2016 than they did in 1992.
While consumers have several Roundup alternatives they can use around the house, large farming operations don’t have as many options.
In the past few years, some farmers have moved away to dicamba or 2,4-D, not because of cancer concerns but because of a growing number of Roundup-resistant weeds. But those pesticides have come with their own problems. Both can drift and kill non-genetically engineered crops that are not resistant to them.
Bayer’s herbicide sales are driven by Roundup, one of the leading reasons it bought out the pesticide’s original manufacturer, Monsanto, in 2016. The company’s overall herbicide sales increased from $2.94 billion in 2017, to $4.65 billion in 2018.
Bayer’s herbicide sales were $104 million less in the first half of 2019 compared to the same time the year before, according to the company’s half-year report. But the company blamed flooding and heavy rains that delayed planting in the United States.
Multiple market analyst firms have predicted growing sales for glyphosate averaging 6 percent year over year into the early part of the next decade. The global glyphosate market was $7.24 billion in 2017, according to Zion Market Research. It estimated the market could grow to nearly $10.8 billion by 2024.