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Bayer and glyphosate-based herbicides

  Jul 30, 2020

Bayer and glyphosate-based herbicides

Why in news?

German pharma company Bayer is facing thousands of lawsuits over one of its products. A Reuters report said 42,700 plaintiffs in the US are blaming Bayer’s herbicides for their cancer, up from 18,400 plaintiffs in July this year.

In August, a jury in California said that Monsanto (the company which Bayer acquired in 2018), should have warned of the alleged cancer risks. Bayer is claiming, however, that it has strong support from US farmers who want the company to keep the product. 

What are these herbicides?

The herbicides are based on a compound called glyphosate. First developed in 1970, glyphosate is scientifically N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine under the IUPAC system of nomenclature. It is applied to the leaves of plants to kill weeds. It is widely used in India, too. According to a 2016 bulletin published by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the weed killer in India goes by various brand names, including Roundup, Glycel, and Brake.

Describing the herbicide’s reach in the country, it says, “Glyphosate was highly accepted by the tea planters in the past two decades. It has a very good market size in the tea sector of West Bengal and Assam. Presently, the consumption of glyphosate is highest in Maharashtra as it is becoming a key herbicide in sugarcane, maize and many fruit crops including mango, banana, grapes, pomegranate and citrus.” 

Why it is a worry?

In 2015, the Word Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer published a study that found glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Activists have been campaigning against glyphosate-based products.

In August this year, The Financial Express quoted an official source as saying, “Although it will be a political decision whether to ban it or not, the official position is that the herbicide is needed for agriculture and is used in many countries, including the US, China, Brazil and Canada. The harmful effects of Glyphosate on human health is yet to be established as the World Health Organization has not issued any advisory.”

France, Italy, and Vietnam banned the herbicide’s use after the IARC finding. 

What the case in the US?

In August 2018, a jury in California said that Monsanto (the company which Bayer acquired in 2018), should have warned of the alleged cancer risks. Since then, litigation against the company gathered pace. Reuters reported that analysts were predicting a future settlement in the $8-12 billion range (approximately between Rs 57,000 and Rs 85,000 crore).