Bayer hires law firm to investigate Monsanto lists

Sidley Austin will examine stakeholder data compiled to influence the public debate on pesticides.

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY: Bayer has hired international law firm Sidley Austin to independently investigate lists of stakeholders created to influence the debate over pesticides, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

The databases came to light on May 10, when French newspaper Le Monde reported that French prosecutors were investigating the lists compiled to help Monsanto, which Bayer acquired in 2018. Thousands of lawsuits have claimed that ingredients in Roundup cause cancer, which is disputed by Bayer.

The lists included the names and other details of more than 200 journalists, politicians and other public figures, categorized according to their position on the Monsanto controversy. French law governs the creation of lists and databases of people based on their political views.

Bayer posted a Q&A in French on its website on Tuesday, saying that FleishmanHillard gathered information about stakeholders in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the U.K., as well as stakeholders related to EU institutions, according to Reuters. The company said that Sidley Austin will investigate the number of people listed and whether individuals in other countries were included. The law firm plans to reach out to people on the lists by the end of next week, though it’s unknown how long the inquiry will take, according to the wire service.

Bayer has also "ended its PR collaboration with FleishmanHillard, but continues to work with the firm on marketing projects," according to Reuters.

"Bayer stands for openness and fair dealings with all of our audiences, including the news media," said Bayer U.S. SVP of corporate affairs Ray Kerins, via email. "We strive for collaborative and professional dialogue with society and all stakeholders."

Fleishman declined to comment on its status with Bayer, but reiterated in an emailed statement that "the work it does on behalf of clients is in keeping with the professional standards and established practices in our industry."

"We believe the public interest is best served when multiple stakeholders are able to discuss and benefit from a wide range of views," the agency said. "Full public discourse is essential to any well-functioning democracy. To that end, stakeholder lists are a commonly used planning tool in business communications by many companies."

This article was updated on May 22 with additional information. 

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