A Battered Bayer Breathes Sigh of Relief As Mexico Suspends Its Long-Awaited Ban on Glyphosate Weedkiller

Even as Bayer’s sales of Roundup slide as fears about the health risks of glyphosate rise, most governments continue to baulk at the idea of banning the product completely.

On April 1, 2024, Mexico’s government was supposed to make history by banning the world’s most notorious weedkiller. On that day, a presidential decree prohibiting the production, importation, distribution and use of glyphosate, the active ingredient of Bayer’s Roundup weedkiller, on Mexican soil was to finally come into effect. But it was not to be. On Tuesday (March 26), just five days before the big day, Mexico’s government suspended the ban arguing that there is no immediate way to replace the herbicide and that safeguarding Mexico’s food security must override all other concerns.

The search for alternatives will continue, reads a joint statement signed by the ministries of Economy, Environment, Health and Agriculture, and the Federal Commission for the Protection against Health Risks. However, the statement does not indicate whether the measure has been postponed or a new date set for its entry into force. The National Council of Science, Humanities and Technology, which has been working to find non-toxic alternatives to glyphosate, with apparently significant success, opposes the decision. And for the moment, Mexico’s outgoing President Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador (aka AMLO) has not publicly commented.

Bayer’s Regret

The news, however, will be welcomed by the German pharmaceutical and biotech corp Bayer, whose disastrous acquisition of Roundup’s toxic creator, Monsanto, in 2018 has left it hemorrhaging funds. Bayer’s shares rose just over 4% on Wednesday and are up over 7% on the week, but they are still down almost 70% from the acquisition date. As Yves wrote in 2020, since which time its litigation woes have done nothing but mushroom, Bayer’s purchase of Monsanto was almost certainly suicidal, but so too was its decision not to engage in anything approaching damage limitation:

It isn’t simply that Bayer-Monsanto has replaced AOL-Time Warner in most press reckonings as “the worst deal of all time”. Yes, nearly every penny of the $66 billion that Bayer paid for Monsanto has gone poof. Yes, Bayer is the first time in German corporate history that a public company got a majority vote of no confidence from its shareholders. Yes, Bayer is at risk of bleeding out over seemingly endless Monsanto-related liability claims (Roundup has so taken the center stage that what would ordinarily be a big-deal litigation drain, Dicamba, is treated as an afterthought). Unlike any other company ever facing similar litigation, Bayer has neither taken Roundup off the market, nor reformulated it, nor put a cancer warning on it. It looks like Bayer will eventually declare bankruptcy.

If Mexico had followed through with its ban on glyphosate, not only would Bayer have lost a key market; it would have faced the risk of a domino effect rippling across Latin America. How many other nations would have followed Mexico’s lead if it had managed to show that it is possible to feed your country without dousing most of your crops in Roundup? But that is not going to happen, at least not for some time.

Meanwhile, Roundup continues to bleed money for Bayer. In 2020, the company agreed to pay $10 billion to settle claims that its weedkiller, Roundup, caused cancer. It was one of the largest corporate settlements in history, but it wasn’t enough. In just one verdict last November, a Missouri jury awarded three plaintiffs $1.5 billion in damages. The company has since set aside a further $6 billion but concerns are rising that it, too, won’t be enough. As the NYT conceded a month later, the 160-year old company’s days may well be numbered.

Yet even as Bayer’s sales of Roundup slide as fears about its health impact rise, most governments continue to baulk at the idea of banning the product completely. Austria and Luxembourg both tried, but failed. Like Mexico, Colombia and El Salvador both banned glyphosate and then overturned the decision. Despite pledging to ban the herbicide, France’s Macron government abstained in an EU vote last year, meaning the bloc will continue to use Roundup for at least another 10 years.

As NC regular vao notes in the comments section below, after the decision was taken, ANSES, the French agency responsible for evaluating the safety of various products (including pesticides and weed-killers), was forced to release a report intended to assess the relevance of genotoxicity testing of glyphosate-based products that it had carefully hidden for eight years.

That report showed that the methods used to detect the mutagenicity of glyphosate had been flawed and inadequate. ANSES had finalized the report and discussed it in 2016, and then shelved it without approving or rejecting it. It also steadfastly refused to provide it to those asking for it (on the basis of a French law similar to the FOIA). The argument: since the report had not been formally approved, it did not formally exist, ergo could not be published. It was finally released after newspaper “Le Monde” initiated a judicial process against ANSES.

Glysophate: TINA?

Mexico’s AMLO government still considers glyphosate to be harmful to human health and the environment, but it fears that Mexican farmers aren’t ready to make the shift just yet. Many farmers and so-called “scientific experts” in Mexico have warned that there is no alternative (TINA) to glyphosate and that its ban could imperil the country’s grain production. Mexico’s imports of GMO corn from the US, rather than falling, reached record levels last year, in part due to a severe drought across many key growing regions.

Industry influence and lobbying almost certainly played a part in the government’s climb down. Days before the government announced its policy reversal, two senators of AMLO’s governing party, MORENA, proposed suspending implementation of the decree on glyphosate due to the lack of alternatives or sustainable practices that will allow the country to maintain the country’s agricultural production.” The proposal was rejected by the senate and lambasted by consumer groups, including the campaign group Sin Maiz No Hay País (Without Corn, There Is No Country), which said the following in a March 22 press release:

We insist on the proven dangers of glyphosate, classified as a probable carcinogenic agent for humans (Group 2A) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and as a highly dangerous pesticide by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and the Network of Action on Pesticides and their Alternatives for Latin America (RAP-AL), among others, a classification taken up in Mexico’s response to the United States in the T-MEC dispute settlement panel.

Glyphosate has caused serious damage to biodiversity, the environment and human health. According to information from the National Council of Humanities, Sciences and Technologies (Conahcyt), its high residuality has been proven and it is present in the soil, in water wells intended for human consumption, in people’s blood and breast milk, and in corn grains.

The decree is not about replacing glyphosate with another specific product, but rather changing the agro-industrial model of food production, for which Conahcyt has disseminated alternatives and successful experiences of agroecological production, implemented together with the Undersecretary of Food Self-Sufficiency at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (Sader)… [These have] demonstrated that production without glyphosate is viable.

With the implementation of agroecology, on more than 5 million hectares and with the participation of almost 2 million small and medium-scale farmers, they have seen increases in yields and improvements in profits, as well as a significant reduction in the use of toxic agrochemicals.

The press release also eviscerates Mexico’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Victor Villalobos, for paying lip service to the “government’s policy of prohibiting glyphosate and genetically manipulated corn in Mexico” whilesupporting and parroting the arguments of agribusiness,” including the claim that “there is no scientific evidence that confirms the multiple effects caused by the use of glyphosate in food production.”

What About Mexico’s GMO Corn Ban?

It is not yet clear what the AMLO government’s U-turn on glyphosate means for its proposed ban on the use of GMO corn for human consumption. The government’s justifications for the ban, announced initially in 2020 to encompass all forms of GMO corn consumption but amended last year to only cover human consumption, included protecting the health of the population, the environment and Mexico’s genetic diversity of maize.

Needless to say, the plan has been fiercely opposed by US corn growers, for whom Mexico is their largest overseas market. To cushion the impact, the AMLO government in December proposed postponing the deadline for the ban until January 2025 as well as exempting yellow feed corn from the ban until an independent investigation (i.e. not financed by GMO producers) can be conducted into its effects on human health.

But that wasn’t enough to placate the US’ hugely powerful Big Ag lobbies. In August last year, the US government responded by calling for the formation of a dispute settlement panel under the USMCA North American trade deal.

This is all par for the course. Regardless of the party in power, the US government has repeatedly used its clout on behalf of Big Ag lobbies to bully smaller countries, including Thailand and now Mexico, into abandoning policies that could threaten the profits of pesticides and biotech companies, as a recent expose by New Lede, a journalism initiative of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, reveals:

[Newly obtained e]mails show that high-ranking US officials, including presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, US Trade Representatives Robert Lighthizer and Katherine Tai, and the US Secretaries of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Tom Vilsack are among American officials who have been involved in lobbying countries amid industry complaints over foreign efforts to limit the reach of certain pesticides and genetically engineered crops within their borders.

The correspondence adds to a body of evidence showing that US government fights with foreign countries over the agricultural crops and chemicals come as USTR, USDA and EPA meet with, and coordinate communications with, corporations selling those crops and chemicals and their lobbyists.

In one example…, when the European Union was considering limitations on two neonicotinoid pesticides, Craig Thorn, a partner with DBT Associates, a trade firm that represents CropLife America, a lobbying association for the agrochemical industry funded by Bayer, BASF, Corteva, Syngenta and other pesticide manufacturers, emailed the USDA, encouraging them to intervene and warning US officials that the vote would be sooner than expected.

The records show industry players have also asked officials in other countries, including Colombia, South Africa and Japan, to push back against pesticide bans in Europe, Thailand and Mexico where opposition to pesticides has been growing.

In its trade dispute with the US and Canada, Mexico should have science on its side, notes Ernesto Hernández-López, a Professor of Law at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law, Chapman University:

Its reply to US and Canadian demands to offer scientific proof backing its case includes 150 scientific studies referred to in peer-review journals, systemic research reviews, and more.Mexico incorporates perspectives from toxicology, pediatrics, plant biology, hematology, epidemiology, public health, and data mining, to name a few…

Based on this, Mexico points to safety risks when humans consume GMO corn and consume corn exposed to herbicides like glyphosate. A World Health Organization (WHO) agency concluded that glyphosate is a likely cause of cancer. Five years ago American courts agreed and continue to do so.

Science-based research supports the Decree in two ways, with justifications for safety measures and with trade obligations. First, corn plays an enormous role in Mexican diets. Because of this, any potential risk from corn creates significant public health concerns for Mexico. Corn provides half of the daily protein intake for Mexican adults. In Mexico corn products are consumed at rates ten times higher than in the United States, according to data from the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization). Put simply, any toxicity from eating corn poses substantial dangers for Mexico.

Luckily the USMCA permits food safety policies tailored to specific risks. This points to a second kind of support for the Decree. Specifically, Mexico has the “right to adopt” measures needed to protect human health. To narrowly craft the measure, Mexico identifies risks to human health from contaminants or toxins in GMO corn in human food. This is why the Decree only applies to tortillas and masa and not animal feed, what American farmers mostly export.

In its defence, Mexico refers to over fifty individual studies for its section on the health risks of GMO corn, with examples from the WHO and leading journals like Nature, while also presenting major risks posed by glyphosate, including liver cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. By contrast, says Hernández-López, the US stance essentially ignores science, drawing on industry-led studies from decades ago to try to maintain that GMO corn is safe. But whether having science (instead of corporate $) on its side will be enough to tip the balance in Mexico’s favour is far from clear.

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  1. leaf

    That reminds me, glyphosate was classified as Group 2A (“probably carcinogenic to humans”). I forget the exact study we were reviewing in our journal club (about study methods/results/etc.) when doing my master of public health, but it was one where my professor (who had been on the IARC panel) noted was one of the key studies responsible for moving it to down to Group 2A. My professor at the time sort of gave the impression he did not really agree with that final assessment that the IARC group decided upon. Maybe I can dig through my notes and find the study we had reviewed later today… I vaguely remember it was based on some US Department of Agriculture data

  2. Gregorio

    I’d love to see glyphosate banned, but in the realm of toxic agricultural chemicals being used here in Mexico, glyphosate is the equivalent of saccharine, compared to some of the other stuff routinely sprayed on crops. Chiles are a major crop in the area where I live, and they must be sprayed often to prevent a worm that enters the chile at the flowering stage rendering it unmarketable. It absolutely breaks my heart to see the young agricultural workers in shorts, flip flops, and zero protective gear, walking up and down the rows in a toxic cloud of pesticide, applying chemicals with motorized backpack sprayers, from bottles with skulls and cross bones clearly labeled “Altamente Toxico.” The cancer rates for these workers and their families are sky high, and the government makes zero attempt whatsoever to mitigate the adverse effects of these chemicals, let alone regulate them.

  3. vao

    Despite pledging to ban the herbicide, France’s Macron government abstained in an EU vote last year, meaning the bloc will continue to use Roundup for at least another 10 years.

    And after that decision was taken, ANSES, the French agency responsible to evaluate the safety of various products (including pesticides and weed-killers), was forced to release a report that it had carefully hidden for 8 years.

    That report showed that the methods used to evaluate the toxicity of glyphosate were flawed and inadequate. ANSES had finalized the report and discussed it in 2016, and then shelved it without approving or rejecting it. It also steadfastly refused to provide it to those asking for it (on the basis of a French law similar to the FOIA). The argument: since the report had not been formally approved, it did not formally exist, ergo could not be published. It was finally released after newspaper “Le Monde” initiated a judicial process against ANSES.

    1. vao

      I should have been more precise and said that the report dealt with methods to detect the mutagenicity of glyphosate, and recommended to use more powerful techniques than those relied upon so far.

      1. Nick Corbishley Post author

        Thanks for the added dirt, vao. If you don’t mind, I’ve hoisted your comment (and the link to the Le Monde article) into the post.

  4. The Rev Kev

    I cannot shake the thought that if a Presidential decree prohibiting the production and importation of glyphosate was nixed, then perhaps a deal was made with the US. That the US had to agree to some measure or refrain from some measure to get AMLO to back down on this decree. It would make a bit more sense then just TINA. But considering the fact that glyphosate has been on sale for 50 years now, I do not know if it is viable to return to methods of agriculture before then.


    1. ambrit

      Think big Rev! Over the last 50 years, the Terran human population has grown from just under 4 billion in 1973, to just over 8 billion today.
      See: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/
      As the Jackpot Project has begun to implement, the “solution” to the agriculture productivity “problem” is to cut the world Terran human population at least in half. If we follow the Club of Rome guidelines, the optimal endpoint is 500 million. How long that will take to achieve, I know not. We don’t know yet what further methods of “Population Rectification” are in the pipeline.

      1. ThatCat

        That these madmen think they can reduce population that much and avoid hundreds of nuclear plant meltdowns and nuclear war, in the process completely destroying habitability of the planet even for their own sainted offspring, is insane.

  5. lyman alpha blob

    There is most definitely an alternative. If Mexico is afraid it won’t have a sufficient food supply, I know where it can get some – https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-04-20/the-us-has-a-food-waste-problem-and-it-s-getting-worse

    Clearly our modern “just in time” supply chains do not work to bring necessities to everyone. How about finding a more equitable way to distribute non-GMO food to everybody, rather than producing mountains of big-Ag adulterated food-like products and then chucking half of it in a landfill?

    1. Yves Smith

      Processed meat is a carcinogen. My grandmother ate cured meat every day at least once a day and died of stomach cancer. Stomach cancer rates are also higher in populations that eat lots of smoked fish.

      1. ciroc

        I agree with the idea that processed meat is bad for you, but I think scientific evidence is necessary when a public body publishes an opinion.

        IARC said, for example, that for each 50 gram piece of processed meat eaten daily, the risk of a person developing colon cancer increases by 18 percent. The observer who spoke to Reuters said these data appeared “to come from nowhere, overnight.”

    2. Felix_47

      I knew Kabat’s father. He was a credible and honest scientist and I learned a lot from him. Assuming the apple does not fall far from the tree I found this article by Geoffrey Kabat to be well worth reading and fleshes out what ciroc is saying.. The problem was that the Bayer executives were trained in Germany under the German legal system. Tort law is much more fact based there and dueling experts are not used. The experts they do use are licensed and if they produce biased reporting they lose their licenses. Baumann thought that Bayer would win based on the facts in a jury trial in Oakland Ca with a sympathetic plaintiff. Any American experienced in the legal area would have settled in a heartbeat knowing that a US jury trial has little to do with truth. . Again the article is well worth reading before one concludes that Roundup is the carcinogen of the century.
      Forbes, IARC’s Glyphosate-gate Scandal
      Geoffrey Kabat
      Oct 23, 2017,05:43am EDT

      1. thousand points of green

        Roundup doesn’t have to be the carcinogen of the century to be a carcinogen. And if the German scientists in question were studying the chemical glyphosate in isolation, and not studying anything about the various other chemicals, carriers, adjuvants, dispersants, etc. used in the final preparation called ” Roundup”, then it may not have even occurred to them at all to look for carcinogenicity among those other chemicals or combination of chemicals which are also part of the final “Roundup” formulation.

        And if one wants to learn about glyphosate’s other-than-cancer risks and hazards, Purdue University’s Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology Don Huber might be a good source to start with.


        And here is a fairly detailed CV of Professor Huber and some of his works and credentials for people to be able to give a credibility and relevancy check . . .

  6. Kontrary Kansan

    Reliance on glyphosate resembles nothing so much as getting hook on whatever drug. Just as nothing can/will be done effectively to staunch the flow of glyphosate (or illict drugs), “treatment” will be the by(buy)word. And this will be accompanied by lamentation, accusation, and handwringing. TINA is the host at all such poison parties.

    (R. Nelson’s GARDEN PARTY)
    I went to a poison party
    To reminisce with my old friends
    A chance to share old memories
    Pop our hits again
    When I got to the poison party
    They all knew my name
    No one recognized me
    I didn’t look the same
    But it’s all right now
    Sellers all do well
    You see, you can’t please everyone
    So you got to please yourself
    People came from miles around
    Everyone was there
    Bayer brought its glypho
    Clouds of it were in the air
    And over in the corner
    Much to my surprise
    Mister Coke hid in Pharma’s shoes
    Wearing his disguise
    But it’s all right now
    Sdllers all do well
    You see, you can’t please everyone
    So you got to please yourself
    Hooked’em on all the old hits
    I thought that’s why they came
    No one heard the music
    Shot’em up all the same
    I said hello to Mary Jane
    She belongs to me
    When it began to wear off and turnin’ dark
    It was time to leave
    But it’s all right now
    Sellers all do well
    You see, you can’t please everyone
    So you got to please yourself
    Someone opened up a closet door
    And out stepped Crack Be Good
    Thumpin’ a needle like a-ringin’ a bell
    And lookin’ like some hood
    Now if you gotta play at poison parties
    I wish you a lotta luck
    Now tremors are all that I have
    No one gives a a *uck
    And it’s all right now
    Sellers all do well
    See, you can’t please everyone
    So you got to please yourself
    Lot-da-da (lot-da-da-da)
    And it’s all right now, yeah
    Sellers all do well
    You see, you can’t please everyone
    So you got to please yourself

  7. thousand points of green

    As far as I know, Gabe Brown is able to operate a profitable 5,000 acre multi-crop and multi-meat ranch without using Roundup. How does he do it?

    Gary Zimmer runs a thousand-acre Certified Organic farm operation in Wisconsin without using Roundup.
    How does he do it?

    A publication called Acres USA features farmer after farmer after farmer from “little” to “big” running profitable farm operations without using Roundup. How do they do it?

    Unless they really aren’t doing it the way they say they are. But so far no one has been able to debunk a single thing about their operations or about what they say they are doing. Which means they really are doing it. Without Roundup.

    So how are they doing it?

    1. thousand points of green

      By the way, here is a little 3-paragraph gem from somewhere inside the CV I linked to just above.

      ” Most recently, Huber’s findings regarding
      glyphosate’s influence on disease susceptibility in crops
      have been especially important to agricultural producers.
      Huber has been at the forefront of research on
      glyphosate’s residual effects on wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans, potatoes, citrus and dozens of other crops.
      Huber explains, “Glyphosate is the reason we are seeing a reemergence of diseases we thought we had controlled.”

      Get that? . . . “Glyphosate is the reason we are seeing a reemergence of diseases we thought we had controlled.” That’s a Purdue University Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology saying that. Not just some granola hippie-guy.

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