By now I'm sure you've seen the jury verdict against Bayer, owner of Monsanto, affirming that the herbicide glyphosate under the trade name Roundup does indeed cause cancer. I was frankly surprised, knowing how things go in courtrooms. I thought that by splitting the lawsuit between the science and the negligence, Bayer would prevail.
But that is not what happened, which means Bayer shares are falling like a rock and the multi-billion dollar acquisition of Monsanto may not have been a good decision. With the court record now 0-2 and 11,400 lawsuits pending, we could be witnessing another tobacco moment.
But farmers are not juries. And most farmers certainly are not San Franciscans, where these two trials have been held. And so "Farmers Stay with Bayer Herbicide" is the big headline in the Wall Street Journal after these verdicts. While shares are down a third since the first case, farm use appears to be holding steady going into the new season.
Well, how much glyphosate gets used, anyway? On soybeans alone, 120 million pounds. On corn alone, 95 million pounds. All other uses amount to about 60 million pounds. Add all those up and you have 275 million pounds. As you know I tend to do, let's put that in perspective. A tractor trailer hauls about 50,000 pounds of freight. So that's 5,500 tractor trailer loads. A trailer is usually 48 feet long, so if you took off the tractors and just lined up the trailers end to end, that would be a line 50 miles long. Just meditate on that a moment.
Every year, every year, every year that's how much Roundup herbicide is dumped onto the U.S. That doesn't count use in any other country. Now you know why even in the face of multi-million dollar liability verdicts, nothing changes at the Monsanto production facility. The herbicide is ubiquitous in farmland, the toxin of choice, favorite partner to control weeds.
In the article, Waverly, Iowa farmer Mark Mueller is quoted as saying he "considers glyphosate essential for sustainably farming his 1,600 acres." Did you catch the word sustainably? Like many farmers practicing no-till, he says it helps keep his soil in place. He could also keep his soil in place by growing perennial prairie, pruning it with herbivores (cattle instead of bison). The assumption that corn and beans are the only viable things to grow is the underlying problem in this whole discussion. But nobody can think that far out of the box, so it continues to be an argument between herbicide and tillage. It can't be an argument between corn and grass. And that's a shame.
One more comparison for magnitude. Officially, 214,000 acres of organic corn are grown in the U.S. That's worth roughly $130 million. Annual sales of glyphosate are $5 billion. Talk about David and Goliath. So all the organic corn grown in the U.S. is less than 3 percent of the value of Roundup sales. Kind of puts things in perspective, no?
Do you think Roundup will go the way of tobacco?