Wires

Bayer cancels plans to sell U.S. crop product in 2020 over safety concerns

Tom Polansek

CHICAGO, July 30 (Reuters) - Bayer AG has scrapped plans for wide sales next year of a chemical that is intended to protect U.S. crops from yield-robbing worms, citing ongoing safety concerns.

The decision is the latest setback for Germany-based Bayer following its acquisition of Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018. Bayer is separately battling thousands of lawsuits claiming Monsanto's glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup causes cancer, allegations the company denies.

Bayer decided not to offer the Monsanto product called NemaStrike Technology broadly after reviewing the experiences farmers and applicators had with it this year, according to a statement.

"After a careful assessment of the applicator and grower experience in 2019, Bayer has made the decision that NemaStrike Technology will not be offered broadly in 2020 for corn, cotton or soybeans," it said.

NemaStrike is applied to crop seeds to defend plants from attacks by worms called nematodes. Monsanto previously said the worms can reduce yields by more than 10%.

A limited number of people suffered skin irritation after handling NemaStrike or seeds treated with the product, according to Bayer.

"While this was a small number relative to the total number of users, we strive to ensure a positive user experience for all our customers and therefore decided to take this action," the company said.

Company representatives were not immediately available to discuss whether or how the product might be made available on a limited basis.

Monsanto in 2017 put on hold plans to launch NemaStrike across up to 8 million U.S. crop acres in 2018, following reports that it caused rashes. The company had called the product a "blockbuster" and insisted at the time that it could be used safely when users follow label instructions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which approved NemaStrike in 2017, had no immediate comment on Tuesday.

Monsanto and Bayer have tested the product in thousands of field trials across the United States over five years. Bayer said it offers "significant value to growers."

Bayer warned separately on Tuesday that its 2019 earnings target had become harder to reach.

The company's market value has fallen by more than 30 billion euros since August 2018, when a California jury found that Monsanto should have warned of alleged cancer risks of Roundup.

Bayer says regulators and extensive research have found glyphosate to be safe.

The company also faces U.S. lawsuits over another Monsanto weed killer based on a chemical called dicamba. Farmers and researchers say the herbicide does not stay where it is sprayed and damages plants that are not engineered to resist it. (Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Dan Grebler)