Quantcast

Monsanto Ignored Warnings About Dicamba Risks as Far Back as 2011

GMO
Cucumber plant injured by dicamba drift. University of Arkansas

Monsanto has been quick to point fingers at farmers for the dicamba disaster that drifted across millions of crop acres in the U.S. this summer, but a special report from Reuters suggests that the seed giant knew for years that such a catastrophe could unfold.

The controversy surrounding the highly volatile weedkiller started in early 2016 when Monsanto—in a highly criticized move—decided to sell its genetically modified, dicamba-tolerant Xtend cotton and soybean seeds before getting federal approval for the corresponding herbicide.


Why would Monsanto do that? Well, as President of Global Strategy Scott Partridge explained to Reuters, the alternative would be "to not sell a single soybean in the United States."

Essentially, the agritech firm could have lost a lot of money if they waited for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to green light its Xtend herbicide. Monsanto also anticipated that the EPA would quickly approve the product but actually had to wait another 11 months as the EPA evaluated its safety.

After the seeds hit the market, farmers ended up planting one million acres of Xtend soybeans before 2016 even ended. But without the proper herbicide, growers illegally sprayed older versions of dicamba onto their crops and inadvertently damaged nearby non-target crops due to drift and volatilization. Last year, hundreds of thousands of crop acres across 10 states were adversely impacted by misuse of the herbicide.

Monsanto, DuPont and BASF SE now sell federally approved dicamba formulations that the companies say are less drift-prone and volatile than older versions when used correctly.

Still, dicamba is now at the very problematic center of 3.6 million acres of crop damage in 25 states just this year alone, University of Missouri weed scientist Kevin Bradley estimated. The companies have blamed farmers for not following instructions or improperly using their products.

However, the real kicker in the new Reuters report is that Monsanto was warned by crop scientists as early as October 2011 that releasing a dicamba-tolerant seed without the corresponding herbicide could cause problems.

At a conference on the future of dicamba in Columbus that year, three Monsanto employees, including Industry Affairs Director Douglas Rushing, as well as representatives from Dow Chemical and BASF, attended a meeting where conference organizers and crop scientists warned about an increased risk of illegal dicamba spraying by farmers once dicamba-tolerant seeds were released.

The conference organizers also warned that farmers with damaged fields would want to buy their own dicamba-tolerant seeds to protect themselves from further drift.

Indeed, some growers feel they have no choice but to switch to the new Xtend system, as the St. Louis Dispatch reported last November.

Monsanto also saw damage reports back in 2015 for its dicamba-resistant cotton seeds when farmers applied old dicamba stockpiles on the crops. But Partridge told Reuters that these cases were "extremely isolated" and "those who applied dicamba illegally should be held responsible."

Monsanto is facing several lawsuits over dicamba damage. In February, farmers across 10 states sued the company, alleging that Monsanto knowingly marketed its Xtend cotton and soybean seeds to farmers without any safe herbicide.

"Monsanto chose to sell these seeds before they could be safely cultivated," said Bev Randles of Randles & Splittgerber, the Kansas City, Missouri law firm representing the farmers. "Monsanto's own advertising repeatedly describes its Xtend seeds and its accompanying herbicide as a 'system' intended to be used together. But when Monsanto failed to get approval to sell the herbicide, it recklessly chose to go ahead and sell the seeds regardless."

Monsanto steadfastly denies responsibility.

"The illegal misuse of old dicamba herbicides with Xtend seeds was not foreseeable," the company's attorneys have said about the lawsuit. "Even if it were foreseeable that farmers would illegally apply old dicamba to their Xtend crops, which it was not, Monsanto is not liable for harms caused by other manufacturers' products."

The dicamba controversy is far from over. On Wednesday, an Arkansas regulatory body moved to ban the chemical (again) next summer. Monsanto has filed a lawsuit to stop the proposed ban.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Kissing bug. Pavel Kirillov / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the kissing bug, which can transmit a potentially deadly parasite, has spread to Delaware, ABC News reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
"Take the pledge today." Screenshot / StopFoodWasteDay.com

Did you know that more than a third of food is wasted or thrown away every year? And that only 25 percent of it would be enough to feed the 795 million undernourished people in the world? That's why today is Stop Food Waste Day, a chance to reflect on what you can do to waste less of the food you buy.

Stop Food Waste Day is an initiative of food service company Compass Group. It was launched first in the U.S, in 2017 and went global the year after, making today it's second worldwide celebration.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat.

Read More Show Less
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15 in Paris, France. Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images

When Paris's Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, the flames threatened more than eight centuries of culture and history. The fire evoked shock, horror and grief worldwide. While the cathedral burned, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed determination to rebuild what the French regard as a sacred site.

Read More Show Less
An artist's impression of NASA's InSight lander on Mars. NASA / JPL-CALTECH

Scientists have likely detected a so-called marsquake — an earthquake on Mars — for the first time, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Hero Images / Getty Images

Across the political aisle, a majority of American parents support teaching climate change in schools even though most teachers currently do not.

Read More Show Less
Priit Siimon / flickr / cc

By Andrea Germanos

Lawyer and visionary thinker Polly Higgins, who campaigned for ecocide to be internationally recognized as a crime on par with genocide and war crimes, died Sunday at the age of 50.

She had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer last month and given just weeks to live.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

An E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef has spread to 10 states and infected at least 156 people, CNN reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less