Agra Pharma giant Bayer AG, which acquired Monsanto in June 2018, will lay off about 12,000 employees in the New Year, most of which will take place in Germany where the company is based. A third of those layoffs are expected to be in the Monsanto plant science division.
The announcement was made in late November, just months after a California jury awarded $289 million to a school groundskeeper who sued Monsanto alleging exposure to the company’s Roundup weed killer contributed to his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis. The award was later reduced to $78 million. Since then, Bayer’s stock has tumbled.
Monsanto introduced Roundup more than four decades ago. It contains the active ingredient glyphosate, which was effective at killing plants. Monsanto then introduced seeds that were genetically modified to resist glyphosate. Crops could then be doused with the herbicide, effectively killing weeds while the crops thrived. This made Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing weed killers one of the most widely used herbicides in the world.
But it comes at a price. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, citing reports of farmers who had been diagnosed with a type of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Bayer and Monsanto continue to refute this claim despite a growing number of lawsuits that allege otherwise.
Monsanto has a storied past. The company was one of nine wartime government contractors that manufactured Agent Orange, a blend of tactical herbicides used by the U.S. military to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover. Agent Orange contained active ingredients – 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), which contained traces of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), a toxic, carcinogenic unwanted byproduct of herbicide production. Soldiers and workers exposed to Agent Orange were more likely to develop serious diseases including cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Bayer says it will phase out the controversial brand name Monsanto.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
American Cancer Society