German pharmaceutical giant Bayer is hiring an outside law firm to review claims circulating in the French media that its seed firm, Monsanto, compiled illegal lists of influential journalists and lawmakers.
Bayer, who acquired the controversial agrochemical business last year, said on Sunday that the decision to commission the independent review came after its own internal investigation into the matter. It added that it understood the concerns raised over the week.
“This is not the way Bayer seeks dialogue with society and stakeholders. We apologize for this behavior,” the company said. However, it maintained that in the company’s eyes, there was nothing illicit about the way such lists were compiled.
The complaint that Monsanto had illegally compiled a dossier of influential journalists, media publications, and politicians was initially made by the French daily, Le Monde. The paper said one of its journalists was among 200 names on the dossier, who would then be targeted by Monsanto lobbyists in a bid to sway their views on glyphosate-based herbicides. A complaint was then made to French police under the charge that the list of personal information was made “by fraudulent, unfair or illicit means.”
Le Monde said the lists were seen by the paper and France 2 after being leaked by a source inside the St. Louis-based PR and lobbying firm, Fleishman-Hillard. Bayer initially told the paper that is was unable to “concretely identify the document,” now dubbed in the media as the ‘Monsanto file.’
The French investigation is the latest in a string of legal woes inherited by Bayer, who have seen their share value plummet by almost 40 percent since taking over Monsanto. Last August, a US court orderedMonsanto to pay $289 million in compensation to a California groundskeeper, after they ruled that years of him using Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup contributed to his cancer. The ruling has opened up Bayer to thousands of other legal cases and 11,000 other Roundup-linked suits are currently making their way through the US courts.
In April, a French court ruled that Monsanto was liable for causing the neurological damages of a farmer, who accidentally inhaled fumes from its Lasso weedkiller in 2004. Arguing that the company gave insufficient warnings on its label, Paul Francois is seeking €1 million ($1.1 million) in damages.