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Bayer Pushes Roundup Protection Bill in Missouri  Opponents See it as a Tactic to Avoid Cancer Lawsuits 

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Above image credit: Billboards like this dapple rural areas of Missouri. The website leads to the Modern Ag Alliance homepage, a coalition of agricultural groups, led by Bayer. (Dyrl Koons | Flatland)
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9 minute read

On the outskirts of the metro, and even more so in rural areas, drivers in Missouri pass billboards displaying generic farm scenes and big orange text urging viewers to “control weeds, not farming.” 

The campaign, and an associated website, are part of a collaboration involving more than 80 agricultural groups across the country and Bayer, a pharmaceutical and biotechnology company.  

Bayer bought the agrichemical company Monsanto in 2018. St. Louis-based Monsanto was famous for its game-changing herbicide, Roundup, and its genetically modified, Roundup-resistant seeds.  

With the sale, Bayer also inherited numerous lawsuits against Monsanto that claimed exposure to the chemicals in Roundup caused cancer in plaintiffs.  

Bayer, which has offices in Kansas City and St. Louis, has paid out billions in settlements against the claims, which are ongoing. 

Now it seeks legislative relief from the lawsuits.  

Bayer and members of Modern Ag Alliance are pushing for the Missouri legislature to pass House Bill 2763 and codify that farm chemical labeling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sufficient to satisfy warning labeling requirements.  

Environmental groups and attorneys counter that the legislation would block Missourians from their right to seek compensation for harm and would unfairly benefit a corporation.  

With only a couple of days left in Missouri’s legislative session, advocates for and against the bill are anxious to see if it will be pushed through. 

A billboard with a farmer holding a laptop in rows of a crop. Text on the billboard reads "Don't let weeds win" and "takecontrolmissouri.com"
Billboards like this dapple rural areas of Missouri. The website leads to the Modern Ag Alliance homepage, a coalition of agricultural groups, led by Bayer. (Dyrl Koons | Flatland)

A Long History 

According to Modern Ag Alliance, 91% of soybean acres and more than half of corn acres in Missouri rely on glyphosate (the chemical in Roundup). Since its creation in the 1970s Roundup has become a key tool for farmers.  

The EPA has evaluated glyphosate many times since the turn of the century and holds that the substance is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”  

Proponents of the bill argue that EPA (which was created in part to regulate the use of pesticides) labeling requirements and evaluation are the ultimate standard.  

But opponents question the EPA’s ability to fairly and adequately make such judgments. Some see a conflict of interest between the agency and the farm chemical industry.  

Others question the validity of the research the EPA evaluated — especially after the Monsanto papers revealed the company had ghostwritten studies touting the safety of Roundup. 

So far, more than 100,000 Roundup lawsuits have been either settled or dismissed. About 30,000 lawsuits are still pending, according to Forbes

Most of these cases seek justice based on failure-to-warn claims for folks who have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer. 

These claims allege that the company knew the product was dangerous to customers and it did not inform them of this risk.  

The Missouri bill, sponsored by Rep. Dane Diehl (R-Butler), would protect companies like Bayer from failure-to-warn claims so long as the company followed labeling regulations and registration of the EPA.  

Modern Ag Alliance supported similar bills in Idaho and Iowa, neither of which passed.  

Jess Christiansen, Bayer’s head of crop science communications, said the alliance and the legislation are about protecting access to important farming tools.  

“The point of the legislation is to create that transparency and science-based labeling requirements to make sure that those really do hold up, that we cannot be held accountable for failure to warn if we’re labeling according to regulatory bodies’ reviews,” Christiansen said.  

Christiansen said the pesticide industry is held to rigorous testing standards, and on average it takes 12 years for a product to move from discovery to the shelves. 

“And it should — we should be going through all the safety assessments,” she said. “The issue is that what we’re being asked to do is to label a product with something that it doesn’t do. These products do not cause cancer. We should not be warning towards that.”  

“The senators need to recognize that if they vote yes for this bill, they’re saying that they care more about protecting corporations that sell products in Missouri than the people who live here.”

– Melissa Vatterott, policy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment

When California tried to impose a cancer warning label on Roundup under Proposition 65, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Bayer.  

The ruling held that labeling of a product with something so controversial and that the company disagreed with was a violation of the first amendment. 

In the opinion of Amy Collignon Gunn, an injury and malpractice attorney at Simon Law Firm in St. Louis, which has worked with clients in Roundup litigation, the decision in California shows that there’s still intense disagreement on the subject.  

“There is a dispute,” Collignon Gunn said. “There’s science both ways. You can argue about which science is better, which one was bought and that kind of thing. But at its core, there’s a debate about whether Roundup causes cancer.”  

The debate is exactly why Collignon Gunn believes juries and courts should continue to decide these issues.  

“That’s what lawsuits and juries are all about — to answer these debates, to make a decision based on the evidence from both sides,” she said.  

Can Folks Still Sue Bayer? 

Collignon Gunn testified against the bill, in part acting in her role as president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys. To her, and others who testified in opposition, the bill would infringe on Seventh Amendment rights. 

“The right to trial by jury should remain unviolated,” Collignon Gunn said.  

A white bottle blue accents sits on the shelf of a hardware store. the bottle reads "Roudup ready-to-use" "weed and grass killer"
Roundup is the most widely used pesticide. It’s used in home and garden settings and in commercial agriculture. (Cami Koons | Flatland)

The language in the bill is not specific to Bayer or to glyphosate products, but it’s known around the statehouse that the company is pushing the legislation. Roundup is also the most widely used herbicide and known to be the subject of many lawsuits.  

“They (Bayer) kind of hide behind that to a certain extent by saying, ‘It’s not just about us,’” Collignon Gunn said. “That to me makes it worse, because it’s about many, many other companies that will have immunity for products we don’t even know about yet.” 

Christiansen at Bayer disagrees.  

“Currently with the litigation industry, (which) has been pretty opportunistic, they’ve anchored to this failure-to-warn concept,” Christiansen said. “It’s just been a bit of rebuttal of the language going around that we’re trying to block all lawsuits but that’s just not true.”  

Christiansen said folks can still seek justice through the Seventh Amendment under product failure and warranty claims.  

Collignon Gunn said these claims would be much more difficult to prove, and don’t hit at the core of the problem for plaintiffs.  

“The heart of the liability against Monsanto/Bayer is that they knew of the propensity of Roundup to cause cancer and hid that risk from its consumers,” Collignon Gunn wrote in an email to Flatland.  

Will Bayer Stop Making Roundup? 

Some Missourians fear that without this bill, Bayer will pull Roundup from the market and farmers would be without a tool that is heavily integrated into their business. This fear is evident from Modern Ag Alliance billboards and from farmer testimony in favor of the bill.

It’s unlikely that this one bill in Missouri would be the tipping point for Bayer, a global company with $52 billion in revenue.  

But it’s no secret that the company has taken a hit from the lawsuits and seen an associated decline in stock prices.  

“The costs that we’re incurring from settlements and legal fees are not sustainable,” Christiansen said. “And it’s forcing us to look at options we never thought we would have to look at.”  

In May 2021, Bayer launched a five-point plan to address the Roundup lawsuits, many of which the company inherited from Monsanto. The plan included initiatives to manage current and future cases, reformulate lawn and garden formulas (purely to minimize litigation risk, not because of safety concerns according to the website), and to seek a positive ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.  

“We’re being very candid,” Christiansen said about the stakes at Bayer. “We have a $16 billion reserve that we’ve set aside just for settlements, and we’ve spent about $10 billion. 

“For a product that has never had any linkages to cancer, this is really, really unsustainable.” 


Modern Ag Alliance Speaks


Melissa Vatterott is the policy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE), a non-partisan environmental advocacy group. 

Vatterott normally works from an environmental viewpoint but said that’s not what her opposition to the pesticide protection bill is about.  

“This is a public health and quality of life issue at hand,” Vatterott said. “We need to make sure that when Missourians are harmed, that they have a way to be compensated — to be made whole as best as possible.” 

Vatterott has seen the billboards from Modern Ag Alliance and has heard the fear in Missouri farmers’ testimony about losing access to this product. 

“Bayer can keep making this product, and it’s really unfair that they’re putting this fear into the minds of farmers,” she said. 

“For a product that has never had any linkages to cancer, this is really, really unsustainable.” 

Jess Christiansen, head of crop science communications at Bayer

Because Bayer dominates glyphosate-based herbicide production in the U.S., some fear that without Roundup, American farmers would have to rely on products from China.  

“Bringing up the idea of foreign-based products, from the farmer perspective is distracting from the implications of this bill,” Vatterott said. “People who have used this product or products like it, they’re not going to be able to seek compensation from any company.”  

Key industry associations including the Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Corn Growers Association and Missouri Pork Association are part of Modern Ag Alliance.  

Other big ag groups like the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association testified in favor of the bill. Their support comes from long-standing relationships with Bayer, and a fear that their profits will be severely affected if they can’t use Roundup. 

Casey Wasser, the senior policy director for the Missouri Soybean Association, said members discussed at length their decision to join the Modern Ag Alliance and support this legislation.  

“Our farmers did not take this decision lightly,” Wasser said. “This bill just says that the federal label is the law of the land and that you have been warned, and you’ve been told how to handle and operate these products.”  

The farmers who use Roundup regularly are trained in proper application procedures and understand the risks of working with a chemical.  

“We believe that the labels have gone through a very rigorous process, and that the EPA has a responsibility to deem whether they’re carcinogenic or not,” Wasser said. “We understand that we have to have these tools and we should trust our agency and follow those very strict application requirements.” 

Wasser said this legislation would further enforce what farmers already believe and the rules they follow.  

“The legislature is really supporting the farmers on this issue, because if we can’t reign in these failure-to-warn lawsuits, and this rhetoric that these products are directly causing cancer, we’re going to lose the product that we have to use to farm in America,” he said.

Modern Ag Alliance has support from Agricultural groups across the country. It lists these groups as partners in Missouri. (Screenshot | Controlweedsnotfarming.com)

What Happens Next? 

The bill has passed the Missouri House and was voted “do pass” by the Missouri Senate’s Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee. Lawmakers have a couple of days left in session to pass the bill, or let it stall. 

If the bill doesn’t pass, Wasser hopes Bayer will continue to offer the product. If the company doesn’t, Wasser said it would be “detrimental.”  

“But I think there’s a possibility that we continue to educate our 197 lawmakers in this state over the next seven months,” Wasser said. “We reintroduce a bill in January, and we do everything we can to help them understand the importance that this has on our industry in the state.”  

That’s Bayer’s plan B as well.  

“I’m passionate about continuing the dialogue regardless of if the bill passes or not,” Christiansen said, mentioning her heritage of growing up on a Missouri farm. “It’s really, really critical. We have to do what’s right for our farmers.” 

Bayer is also advocating for similar legislation at the federal level and plans to look at states beyond Missouri, Idaho and Iowa in the future.  

If the bill is passed in the next couple of days, Vatterott said the state enters a “scary reality” where people are no longer able to seek compensation for these claims.  

“The senators need to recognize that if they vote yes for this bill, they’re saying that they care more about protecting corporations that sell products in Missouri than the people who live here,” Vatterott said.  

If passed, it would go into effect August 28 (as most bills in the state) and failure-to-warn claims against the company could no longer be filed.  

“I can’t imagine the day when I get a call from a potential client who says, ‘I’ve used Roundup this many years and I have recently been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,’ and I have to say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you. But please feel free to call senator blank and senator blank because they voted for your rights to be taken away,’” Collignon Gunn said.  

Cami Koons covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America. The work of our Report for America corps members is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. 

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One thought on “Bayer Pushes Roundup Protection Bill in Missouri 

  1. >“I can’t imagine the day when I get a call from a potential client who says, ‘I’ve used Roundup this many years and I have recently been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,’ and I have to say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you. But please feel free to call senator blank and senator blank because they voted for your rights to be taken away,’” Collignon Gunn said.

    You mean, you can’t imagine the day where you can’t milk a billion dollar verdict out of a company based off very little evidence. Everyone gets Bayer’s role in all of this and is appropriately skeptical of their motivations. Why do people assume that the Ex-Tort-ionist lawyers are doing this for people’s “Rights”. They’re doing it because Bayer is an easy reputational punching bag, they’ve got a class they can milk for decades, and even if they lose the majority of cases (and they do at 13/20), they can keep pulling at the Tort law slot machine for billion dollar payouts if they can find a judge and jury sympathetic enough.

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