Critical shareholder holds Bayer to account at the company's annual general meeting
Bayer CEO Werner Baumann recently lost a crucial confidence vote as investors questioned his handling of the $63 billion Monsanto deal and the wave of US lawsuits that followed. In what Bloomberg called "a stunning development for the German drugs and chemicals company", about 55 percent of shareholders voted against absolving Baumann and other managers of responsibility for their actions in the takeover last year.
The vote threw Baumann's future into question and prompted an immediate supervisory board session. While the supervisory board ignored the unprecedented vote, investors are not happy with the directors' decision to back Baumann and his strategy.
While much of the investor unrest undoubtedly focuses on financial liability, strong concerns are being raised about Bayer's ethics. At Bayer's annual general meeting, Christian Russau from the umbrella organization, the Critical Shareholders, made a speech in which he launched a scathing attack on the company for its "double standards". According to Russau, Bayer sells pesticides in Brazil that are banned in the EU.
Russau undertook two investigations, one in 2016 and a second in 2019.
He found that eight pesticide active substances were sold by Bayer in Brazil in 2016 that are not authorized at EU level:
But by 2019, the number had increased to 12:
Russau commented, "This is a hefty 50 percent increase."
Russau noted that in 1988, the then Bayer CEO Hermann J. Strenger refused to set double standards. He said, "We make the same requirements of our investments in Brazil or India, in the US, or in Japan, as [in Germany]."
Yet 31 years later, Russau said, Bayer still sells in Brazil some herbicides, insecticides and fungicides with active ingredients that are banned in Europe. So it is operating according to a double standard. Russau accused Bayer CEO Werner Baumann of complicity with this double standard, in an "unspeakable historical continuity".
Why is the focus on Brazil? Russau said, "Because Brazil is at the center of Bayer's growth interest." Addressing Baumann directly, he added that the Bayer CEO said at the 2018 annual general meeting that Bayer's interest in acquiring Monsanto would be in the seed sector and in the growth of that sector: "This type of seed is usually genetically modified, and that's what the agricultural poisons need. If these three variables – genetically modified seeds, agricultural poisons and growth – are put together, only one common denominator can be found worldwide: Brazil. That's the sad reality. Because the growth in the areas of genetically modified seeds and agricultural poisons has already reached its limits in the US, the lawsuits against Monsanto testify to this."
In Europe, Russau said, public resistance is too great for growth to be expected here. In India, more and more states are declaring themselves "pesticide-free" and China is showing concern about pesticide contamination; "So only Brazil remains. And there's a reason for that."
Russau commented on "alarming news from Brazil": The new Brazilian government of President Jair Bolsonaro, with agriculture minister and agrochemicals lobbyist Tereza Cristina, whom Brazil's largest and most respected daily has dubbed the "Poison Muse", has released other highly toxic agricultural poisons that are banned elsewhere. As a well-known scientist from the state research institute for health issues FIOCRUZ recently said: "Brazil will become a paradise for agricultural poisons."
Russau said he feared that companies such as Bayer will continue to participate, perhaps more than ever, in the sale and distribution of highly toxic agrochemicals in Brazil. As a survival tactic in the face of Monsanto's multi-billion dollar acquisition, Bayer will go for growth at any price. Any poison which can be sold will be sold.
Brazil: A pesticide "hell on earth"
Russau called Brazil a "pesticide hell" on earth, for these reasons:
* Brazil is the world leader in the use of agricultural poisons – and the GM soy-growing province of Mato Grosso holds the world record: If the total amount of agricultural poisons released in Brazil per year is measured in terms of per head of population, then one arrives at the terrifying amount of 7.3 litres per Brazilian citizen. But this is "only" the national average. Brazil's leader in spraying agricultural poisons is the Central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, where 13.3% (140 million litres) of all the pesticides used in Brazil were sprayed each year from 2005 to 2012, according to the latest calculations by the State Institute for Agricultural Safety of Mato Grosso (Indea).
* Looking at one of these "boom" communities – Sapezal, in the state of Mato Grosso, in 2012, nine million litres of agricultural poisons were used in the municipality of Sapezal alone. These are the latest available data from Indea. If you count the amount of agrochemicals used in all of Brazil, we come to the above-mentioned 7.3 litres per person. In Sapezal, however, this value is 52 times higher: 393 litres per person, if we take as a basis the population of 2016.
* A study by the Federal University of Mato Grosso found in one study that there were 1,442 cases of gastric, oesophageal and pancreatic cancer in 13 municipalities (644,746 inhabitants according to last 2015 census), in which soy, corn and cotton were grown between 1992 and 2014. In comparison, in the 13 comparable municipalities (219,801 inhabitants according to last census 2015), where tourism predominated instead of agriculture, the number of cancer cases was just 53. This results in a cancer rate of 223.65 per 100,000 inhabitants in predominantly agricultural municipalities, whereas in predominantly tourism municipalities, there is a cancer rate of 24.11 per 100,000 inhabitants. So, in municipalities where pesticides are heavily sprayed, the cancer rate is statistically higher by a factor of 8.
In conclusion, Russau asked Bayer’s CEO, Baumann: How much anti-cancer medicine (volume and sales) did your drug company send to the state of Mato Grosso in 2016 and 2017?