German drugs and pesticides company Bayer said the economic downturn has prompted it to take a tougher stance in talks to settle claims its glyphosate-based weedkillers cause cancer, even as its earnings rose.
The pandemic has significantly slowed the mediation process, it said in a statement.
“The company will consider a deal only if it is financially reasonable and puts in place a mechanism to resolve potential future claims efficiently,” Chief Executive Werner Baumann said.
“This applies now more than ever,” he added, citing a looming recession and considerable liquidity challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of U.S. plaintiffs blaming its glyphosate-based weedkillers for their cancer reached 52,500, up from 48,600 in February, the company added.
Bayer denies that claims Roundup – or its active ingredient glyphosate – cause cancer, saying decades of independent studies have shown it to be safe for human use.
The company added that first-quarter adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose 10.2 per cent to 4.39 billion euros ($4.76 billion), surpassing average analyst expectations of 4.17 billion, according to Refinitiv data.
The beat was driven by a 14 per cent gain in earnings at the agriculture division from higher sales of crop chemicals and corn seeds. Earnings were further underpinned by a 19 per cent increase in revenue from stroke prevention drug Xarelto.
Bayer warned, however, that it was unable to assess the impact of the pandemic on group earnings this year.