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EPA says Roundup weed killer is safe, in a win for Bayer

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave Bayer a boost when it decided that its Roundup week killer didn't cause cancer.
  • Two recent court cases found just the opposite, ruling against Bayer and Roundup.
  • Environmental advocates, including the National Resources Defense Council, denounced the EPA's decision.

After two recent defeats in court, Bayer has won a round — this one delivered by regulators — as it contends with more than 10,000 lawsuits claiming a chemical in its widely used Roundup weed killer causes cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday said it "continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen."

The agency said its findings were consistent with those of "many other countries and other federal agencies." But environmental advocates, including the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) denounced the decision.

"Health agencies and credible non-industry experts who've reviewed this question have all found a link between glyphosate and cancer," Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at NRDC said in a statement. The World Health Organization in 2015 termed glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Jury finds Monsanto's Roundup weed killer contributed to man's cancer 03:01

Bayer, which acquired Roundup in 2018 when it purchased U.S. agricultural chemical company Monsanto, called the agency's review "significant," reiterating its stance that "science supports the safety of glyphosate-based herbicide." The EPA's stance reaffirmed earlier findings by the agency on the safety of the glyphosate, but it differs greatly from that of jury rulings in recent years that found the chemical caused cancer in two people.

Since acquiring Roundup with its purchase of Monsanto last year for $66 billion, Bayer's legal losses have helped knock $39 billion off its market value. In addition to lawsuits, Bayer has found itself trying to tamp down a bout of unwelcome PR that came with reports by consumer groups contending traces of the chemical were showing up in beer and wine, as well as some children's cereals. Bayer dismissed the claims as "misleading."

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in U.S. agriculture. Beyond its use by farmers, Roundup is sprayed on golf courses and residential lawns to kill weeds. 

Bayer has also helped finance damage control on behalf of Scotts Miracle-Gro, to which it licenses its consumer business. Scotts CEO Jim Hagedorn told analysts in a conference call that the controversy made the future less than clear. "I can't predict that it's going to be as good next year," Hagedorn said Wednesday. "It's the court of public opinion and consumers that matter here."

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