ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

13 January 2002


In October 2001 Aventis CropScience was bought by the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer. NGIN has accordingly updated its section on Aventis CropScience: Bayer/Aventis - public enemy no.1

Multinational Monitor recently named Bayer as 1 of the 10 worst corporations for 2001, amongst other reasons for its harassment of the Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers, which had set up a website with materials on Bayer. The Coalition has renamed its website BayerWatch and it can be found at:

For multiple news items on Bayer/Aventis/AgrEvo with particular relevance to GM crops, see the GM Food website company news page at:

The following is taken from the CorporateWatch newsletter, December 2001, which comes complete with a neat BayerHazard symbol (which we've nicked for the 'Public enemy no. 1 page'!).  A corporate profile of Bayer from CorporateWatch is coming soon.


Warning: BayerHazard!

In early October Bayer AG, the massive German-based chemical and pharmaceutical company, finally acquired Aventis CropScience for the knock down price of 7.25bn Euro (pounds 4.5bn). Bayer has thus become the leading company pushing forward the commercialisation of GM crops in the UK and Europe. Corporate Watch brings you the background to the sale plus the lowdown on Bayer, its position and crimes.

In the ever-fluid, name-changing, shape-shifting world of agricultural biotechnology it can be hard to keep track of who owns whom and who is doing what. The last couple of years have seen a bewildering array of sales, mergers and spin-offs among the companies trying to force GM crops into the fields and down our throats. The company formerly known as AgrEvo (Hoescht/Schering), PGS and Aventis CropScience has been particularly slippery. However, rather than being a deliberate ploy by evil transnationals to confuse activists as to their real identity, this constant name changing reflects a real atmosphere of uncertainty within the crop science industry.

The late 1990s saw the formation of several huge life-sciences companies including Aventis, Monsanto, Astra-Zeneca and Novartis, all committed to the idea that combining human healthcare and crop protection interests in one company would lead to profitable 'synergies'. The life-sciences bubble has now effectively burst. All these companies have either sold or spun off their crop protection and seed interests.

This departure from life-sciences has been prompted by number of factors: 1. A downturn in global crop and agrochemical markets. 2. Widespread public opposition to GM crops, meaning that companies were not able to make the easy returns they had expected on their R&D investments. 3. The fact that, in the end, the profitable 'synergies' just weren't there or weren't profitable enough to dilute the strain of having to manage two very different businesses. Crop protection and seed interests have proved to be an unpopular burden on otherwise profitable pharmaceutical and chemical businesses. Aventis' sale of its CropScience division leaves Bayer as the only company attempting to pursue the life science model.

Having shed its loss-making CropScience business (it is also currently in the process of selling off its Animal Nutrition business) Aventis is now concentrating on pharmaceuticals. It will, however, retain all future liability for damages claims arising from last year's (2000) Starlink GM contamination scandal. Aventis new advertising campaign attempts to re-brand them as the squeaky clean, benevolent drugs company that will save the world (see the CW subvert on the back cover of the December edition of The Ecologist).

What is Bayer and what is it up to?

Bayer is a chemicals and pharmaceuticals manufacturer with operations in most countries world-wide and global sales last year of nearly $30 billion. Its operations are divided into four sectors: health, agriculture, polymers and chemicals. However, all is not well at Bayer HQ, following a downturn in the polymers (rubber, plastics, etc.) division and problems following the withdrawal of a key pharmaceutical product, the anti-cholesterol drug Baycol/Lipobay. All this, compounded by a downturn in the German economy, has led to a massive drop in profits. Bayer is looking to concentrate on and expand its pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors in order to ride out the current difficulties. Despite considerable holdings in crop protection, until now Bayer has kept its distance from GM crops, preferring a more 'traditional' reliance on agro-chemicals. Its acquisition of Aventis CropScience has vastly enhanced Bayer's agricultural sector, particularly in herbicides and conventional and GM seeds.

Bayer now owns over half of the GM crop varieties currently seeking approval for commercial growing in the EU. These include 9 varieties of oilseed rape and one variety of maize, all of which are modified to be tolerant to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium, or Liberty, also now owned by Bayer. Should the de facto EU moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops be lifted, Bayer will be best placed to flood European fields with GM crops. In the UK Bayer will be responsible for the majority of GM field trials, including the controversial farm scale trials, over the next year.

Bayer's history

Looking at Bayer's past it is hardly possible to imagine a worse company to entrust with the development and commercialisation of such an unwanted, unpredictable and potentially dangerous technology as GM crops. Bayer has a history of corporate crimes that makes even old-school bio-tech baddies Monsanto seem like angels. Here are just a few of the skeletons in Bayer's cupboard:

In 1898 Bayer trademarked Heroin and in 1900 marketed it world-wide as a cough medicine.

In 1925 Bayer was one of the companies that merged to form IG Farben. During WWII IG Farben used forced labour in many of its factories. IG Farben subsidiary Degesch manufactured and sold Zyklon B, the poison gas used in the gas chambers. Bayer AG was one of 4 companies to be formed out of the assets of IG Farben in 1952.

Bayer has been implicated in the development of nerve agents including VX.

Bayer was one of the pharmaceutical companies who took the South African government to court for allowing the production of cheap generic versions of HIV drugs (see CW Newsletters 2 and 3 and articles on the website).

In the wake of the recent anthrax attacks in the US, Bayer is raking in millions of dollars as the sole US manufacturer of Cipro, the antibiotic used to treat the disease.

Earlier this year Bayer was forced to withdraw one of its leading pharmaceutical products ­ the anti cholesterol drug Baycol or Lipobay, which was linked to 31 deaths in the US.

In the early 1990's Bayer placed hundreds of UK patients at risk of potentially fatal infections by failing to disclose crucial safety information during a trial of the antibiotic Ciproxin. Up to 650 people underwent surgery using Ciproxin without doctors being informed that studies (as early as 1989) showed Ciproxin reacted badly with other drugs, seriously impairing its ability to kill bacteria.

Bayer is currently facing a lawsuit in Peru brought by the parents of children killed in a pesticide poisoning incident in the Peruvian Andes. Twenty-four children died and a further eighteen were severely poisoned after drinking powdered milk accidentally mixed with a Bayer pesticide. The chemical methyl parathion (brand name Folidol), an odourless white powder that resembles powdered milk, was sold to farmers, mainly illiterate Quechua speakers, in small plastic bags with labels in Spanish and no pictograms indicating danger or toxicity.

Bayer is also anxious to stifle criticism. It recently forced the excellent German based anti-Bayer campaign group BayerWatch to rename its web site and to relinquish all rights to the BayerWatch name.

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