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Bayer-Monsanto Merger May Increase Roundup Use, Threaten Food Supply, French Chefs Warn

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A number of groups are protesting the anticipated merger of Bayer and Monsanto, indicating that Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup and other products will be more widespread and will endanger the food chain if the two global companies join forces. 

A group of French top chefs, environmental groups and a group representing U.S. farmers have all come out against the deal; a proposed $66 billion buyout of Monsanto by Bayer. The deal is currently under investigation by European officials.

An open letter (in French) signed by more than 100 chefs and others in the French food industry was published in the French culinary publication Atabula. The chefs call the merger a danger, saying that it will lead to complete control of the food chain and fill people’s plates with potentially dangerous chemicals like Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide.

Roundup, made with the active ingredient glyphosate, is the most popular herbicide in the world. However, in March 2015, an assessment by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) indicated that glyphosate is likely a cancer-causing agent. In particular, the IARC report linked the side effects of Roundup to an increased risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

In addition, Monsanto has engineered numerous crops genetically to be “Roundup Ready” and able to endure heavy use of the herbicide as weeds have grown more resistant. The chefs said that the modified crops and Roundup threaten both cultural and agricultural diversity and could stifle cooks’ creative talents.

The buyout has also received criticism from the National Farmers Union (NFU) in the U.S.

“Consolidation of this magnitude cannot be the standard for agriculture, nor should we allow it to determine the landscape for our future,” the group’s president, Roger Johnson, said in a September 14 statement. “For the last several days our family farm and ranch members have been on Capitol Hill asking Members of Congress to conduct hearings to review the staggering amount of pending merger deals in agriculture today. We will continue to express concern that these megadeals are being made to benefit the corporate boardrooms at the expense of family farmers, ranchers, consumers and rural economies.”

Both NFU the environmental group, Friends of the Earth, and other groups have called on legislators in the U.S. to block the merger.

The protests come even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared that it does not believe glyphosate is a likely human carcinogen, though the agency said it could not rule out a link to non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Monsanto has aggressively defended the safety of Roundup, one of the most import products for the company, criticizing the IARC’s decision and dismissing safety concerns as agenda driven and based on “junk science.”

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also conflicted with the IARC findings, declaring glyphosate to be safe. However, several countries in the EU have moved to ban glyphosate use, despite the European Commission’s decision to extend the license for glyphosate use for 12 to 18 months in late June.

Roundup Litigation

Amid the continuing debate within the regulatory community, Monsanto now faces a growing number of Roundup cancer lawsuits in the United States, typically involving individuals diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following heavy exposure to the herbicide as a farm or agricultural worker.

The complaints allege that the manufacturer recklessly promoted Roundup and pushed greater and greater use of the chemical, without disclosing the potential health risks.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey on glyphosate usage nationwide found that an estimated 2.6 billion pounds of the herbicide has been sprayed on America’s agricultural land over the two decades since the mid-1990s, when Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready” crops that are designed to survive being sprayed with glyphosate, killing the weeds but not the crops.

In all that time, the FDA has never tested for residue or buildup in the food sold to Americans nationwide. In a report published in 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the FDA for this deficiency in its pesticide program.

The lawsuits over Roundup allege that plaintiffs may have avoided a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other cancers if they had been warned about the Roundup risks for farmers, landscapers and others in the agricultural industry, as safety precautions could have been taken or other products could have been used to control the growth of weeds.

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