As Lawsuits and Losses Pile Up, Bayer Seeks to Demonstrate Transparency

Bayer says it will open laboratory studies of new pesticides to outside observers amid mounting legal challenges.

Feb. 21, 2020
By Claudie Benjamin

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Bayer, the multi­na­tional phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and agri­cul­ture giant, has announced a new trans­parency ini­tia­tive that will allow the pub­lic to visit one of its lab­o­ra­to­ries where pes­ti­cide safety tests are done.

The move comes as jurors in a Delaware fed­eral court awarded $265 mil­lion to a Missouri farmer who con­tended that a Bayer pes­ti­cide, dicamba, dam­aged sup­pos­edly resis­tant crops after being blown onto them by the wind. Bayer said it plans to appeal the rul­ing.

(Visitors will be able to observe) one real reg­u­la­tory safety study in depth which will be con­ducted at one field loca­tion and one ana­lyt­ics lab.- Charlotte Morr, crop sci­ence data trans­parency man­ager at Bayer

The com­pany also faces more than 140 addi­tional law­suits related to dicamba in the American Midwest alone and is already in the process of set­tling thou­sands of law­suits related to Roundup, the for­merly pop­u­lar weed­killer, which has since been sus­pected of caus­ing can­cer.

Both Roundup and dicamba are prod­ucts of Monsanto, which was pur­chased by Bayer in 2018.

See Also: Europe Okays Controversial Weed Killer

By expand­ing the scope of our efforts in trans­parency, we are rein­forc­ing our com­mit­ment to con­tin­u­ally rais­ing the bar on trans­parency stan­dards around our agri­cul­tural inno­va­tions in every area where we work,” Bob Reiter, Bayer’s head of research and devel­op­ment in its crop sci­ence depart­ment, said in a press release.

Starting in April 2020, the pub­lic will be able to visit Bayer’s labs and test fields in Monheim, Germany, to observe the company’s sci­en­tists con­duct lab­o­ra­tory stud­ies, which are required for reg­u­la­tory approval of new pes­ti­cides.

“[Visitors will be able to observe] one real reg­u­la­tory safety study in depth which will be con­ducted at one field loca­tion and one ana­lyt­ics lab,” Charlotte Morr, the crop sci­ence data trans­parency man­ager at Bayer, said. The pro­gram will show the process of safety test­ing under good lab­o­ra­tory prac­tice’ con­di­tions with the involve­ment of qual­ity assur­ance staff.”

Visitors at the upcom­ing pro­gram will observe how a spe­cific Bayer pes­ti­cide will be applied for a reg­u­la­tory study, accord­ing to good lab­o­ra­tory prac­tice” stan­dards – an inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized sys­tem for qual­ity con­trol mea­sures used in non-clin­i­cal exper­i­ments.

The next day, pre­vi­ously har­vested crops will be ana­lyzed for pes­ti­cide residues in the lab. This is to ensure that the use of Bayer’s prod­ucts is safe for con­sumers when applied accord­ing to the label-instruc­tions.

Known as the OpenLabs ini­tia­tive, Bayer hopes that by open­ing up the process it can con­front the skep­ti­cism and lack of trust that farm­ers, sci­en­tists and the gen­eral pub­lic have long har­bored toward indus­try-funded stud­ies and sci­ence.

Sebastien Sauvé, a pro­fes­sor at the University of Montreal, is among those who have expressed wari­ness of the reli­a­bil­ity of indus­try-funded stud­ies, in gen­eral.

When perus­ing the sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture on pes­ti­cides, it is dif­fi­cult to screen out what has been designed objec­tively and what has been funded by indus­try with a poten­tially biased intent,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Conversation. The recent oblig­a­tion of sci­en­tists to declare con­flicts of inter­est has been essen­tial to trust the results.”

Bayer can­not yet say which of its prod­ucts will be tested dur­ing the event because the tests have not been sched­uled yet.

Depending on the time of the year, the appli­ca­tion of a prod­uct or the har­vest of the crop will be pre­sented,” Morr said. In spring, it will be the prod­uct appli­ca­tion process.”

We are depen­dent on the weather con­di­tions and the growth stage of the plants,” she added. The process of test­ing is in the focus of the pro­gram rather than the crops or prod­ucts tested.”

Depending on how this first trial goes, Bayer may expand the pro­gram to other loca­tions. Bayer cur­rently oper­ates in 90 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, although not all of these loca­tions are involved with its agri­cul­tural activ­i­ties.

We will eval­u­ate the poten­tial to expand this pro­gram to other sites and study types based on the expe­ri­ences from our residue study pilot in Monheim,” Morr said. We are com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ally enhanc­ing trans­parency stan­dards around the process used to assess the safety of our prod­ucts and we are also com­mit­ted to talk­ing openly about our inno­v­a­tive and sus­tain­able solu­tions in agri­cul­ture with the inter­ested pub­lic.”


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