Bayer’s legal woes in the US have deepened, with the German chemicals and pharmaceuticals group disclosing on Thursday that it faces claims from 48,600 plaintiffs alleging that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer.

Bayer has been locked in a fierce and costly legal battle over the glyphosate-based product since August 2018, when a California court issued the first ruling linking Roundup to cancer. It has since lost another two Roundup cases, with juries awarding substantial damages on all three occasions.

The latest rise in the number of plaintiffs was notable, but not as dramatic as the surge in claims that hit Bayer last year. In October, the Leverkusen-based group said it was aware of 42,700 cases, up from 18,400 only three months before.

The disclosure came as Bayer reported a 19 per cent rise in revenues to €43.5bn for the full year, and a 28 per cent rise in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, adjusted for special items. The jump in revenues was driven above all by a strong performance in the group’s crop science division, where sales rose 39 per cent to €19.8bn.

Bayer acquired the US crops group Monsanto for $63bn in 2018 — a deal that catapulted the German group into the market leader position but also saddled it with the legal fallout from Roundup, originally a Monsanto product.

“We delivered in 2019 and kept our promises in all areas,” Werner Baumann, the Bayer chief executive, said in a statement. “We achieved our financial targets despite coming up against a challenging market environment in the agriculture sector in particular.”

Net earnings jumped 141 per cent to €4.1bn, reflecting in part extraordinary gains on disposals. Stung by the dramatic fall in the group’s share price since the first glyphosate ruling, Bayer has embarked on an ambitious restructuring programme that has involved thousands of job losses and the sale of non-core divisions such as sun protection and foot care.

Bayer has argued consistently that Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides are safe, pointing out that the substance has been approved for use by regulators around the world. The German group cautioned that all US verdicts were reached by juries rather than professional judges, insisting that it was confident of winning the cases on appeal.

That line of argument, however, failed to stem a dramatic slide in Bayer’s share price, or to quell shareholder anger at the group’s senior management. In response, Bayer management announced a U-turn last year, saying the group was ready after all to hold settlement talks with plaintiffs. Those talks have yet to reach a conclusion, but shareholders have been broadly supportive of the shift in strategy. Hopes that a speedy resolution of the glyphosate claims will be less costly and disruptive than fighting a prolonged legal battle have helped shares in Bayer recover at least some of the ground lost since 2018.

Bayer said on Thursday that it “continues to constructively engage in the confidential court-ordered mediation proceedings to explore whether a settlement can be reached on reasonable terms that is structured in a way that will bring this entire series of litigations to a reasonable conclusion”.

Shares in the group fell more than 2 per cent in early trading on Thursday.

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