Germany's Bayer sought to repair its reputation on Friday after damage caused by US litigation over claims its glyphosate pesticide causes cancer, saying it would invest 5 billion ($5.6 billion) in weedkiller research.
Bayer's shares hit seven-year lows after a California couple was last month awarded more than $2 billion in the largest-ever US jury award over claims that glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup, which the German life sciences group acquired when it took over Monsanto, causes cancer.
As well as saying it would invest 5 billion in research over the next 10 years, Bayer promised to reduce its environmental impact by 30% through 2030 via measures such as more precise and more sparing application of crop chemicals. "We listened. We learned," Bayer said on its website here, adding that it had "heightened responsibility and ... unique potential to advance farming for the benefit of society and the planet".
The share price slide has left Bayer with a market valuation of $56 billion, less than it paid for Monsanto, piling pressure on CEO Werner Baumann who championed the takeover and who has faced a backlash from shareholders. "While glyphosate will continue to play an important role in agriculture and in Bayer's portfolio, the company is committed to offering more choices for growers," said Bayer, which maintains that glyphosate is safe.
Its move follows a third consecutive US jury verdict against Roundup, which Bayer acquired as part of its $63-billion purchase of Monsanto last year.
Baumann has beefed up Bayer's public relations machine in an attempt to repair its image, which also faces a backlash in Germany over a collapse in insect populations, which environmentalists blame on pesticides used in farming.
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