Bayer has agreed to a $6.9 million settlement with the state of New York to resolve allegations of false advertising regarding the safety and nontoxicity of its popular Roundup weedkiller.

The New York State Attorney General’s office announced the payout in mid-June. Bayer was accused of misleading New Yorkers about Roundup, a popular weed killer that contains glyphosate. The suit said Bayer claimed its product was environmentally safe without adequately substantiating those assertions. 

“Pesticides can cause serious harm to the health of our environment, and pose a deadly threat to wildlife, including pollinators and other species vital to agriculture,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “It is essential that pesticide companies — even and especially the most powerful ones — are honest with consumers about the dangers posed by their products so that they can be used responsibly.”

The settlement with the New York attorney general is only related to the environmental impacts of Roundup products and is not part of the litigation regarding human health. 

False Advertising at Center of Lawsuit

An investigation into Bayer’s advertising practices began in 2020 by the attorney general’s office to determine if it was engaged in false advertising of its Roundup products. The investigation uncovered numerous claims made in advertising that Roundup products “won’t harm anything but weeds” and “do not pose a threat to the health of animal wildlife.” This was a violation of a 1996 settlement between Monsanto, which Bayer now owns, and New York. 

“Following the investigation, Attorney General James concluded that the companies’ claims about these products violated New York laws against persistent business fraud and false and misleading advertising, and breached Monsanto’s obligations under the prior settlement,” the statement said.

Scientific studies have found that some formulations of Roundup brand pesticides may be toxic to wildlife, particularly honeybees and butterflies, as well as some aquatic life. As many as 60% of native New York pollinators are at risk of disappearing from the state, threatening future crops and wildflowers, according to James.

Money from the Roundup settlement will be used to “prevent, abate, restore, mitigate or control the impacts of toxic pesticides such as those containing glyphosate on pollinators or aquatic species” and may also be used for “research, monitoring, and education, as well as habitat management, restoration, and enhancement.”

Bayer and Monsanto are required to stop and remove any advertisements that represent the product as being “safe, non-toxic, harmless, or free from risk to pollinators and other wildlife,” the statement said. The company told Reuters it was “pleased to settle” and noted the attorney general’s probe didn’t uncover any new scientific conclusions.

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Glyphosate: Cancerous or Not?

Roundup is a widely used herbicide with glyphosate as its main active ingredient. There is a debate about whether Roundup causes cancer. 

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disagreed in 2017, stating it’s “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

Petitioners challenged the EPA’s stance on glyphosate in 2020 through the U.S. Court of Appeals, citing concerns over risks to humans and the ecology. The EPA was ordered to reevaluate its stance on environmental risk and will also reevaluate the cancer risk associated with glyphosate.

Farmers, landscapers and agricultural workers are among those who have filed Roundup cancer lawsuits against Monsanto and Bayer, claiming the weedkiller caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The company announced it would change its lawn and garden formulation to have different active ingredients in 2023 “exclusively to manage litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns.” 

Bayer offered $10.9 billion to settle thousands of claims in 2020 and Roundup lawyers continue to take cases. As of June 15, there were 4,193 Roundup lawsuits still open in federal multidistrict litigation in California. Plaintiffs claim the company knew about the cancer risks and failed to warn consumers.

Bayer stands by the safety of its products and denies Roundup’s link to cancer.