Quantcast
GMO
Cucumber plant injured by dicamba drift. University of Arkansas

Monsanto Ignored Warnings About Dicamba Risks as Far Back as 2011

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 ()
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
Storage solutions, such as Tesla's Powerwall domestic battery, are "moving from the grid to the garage to the landing at home." Tesla Motors

Battery Storage Revolution Could 'Sound the Death Knell for Fossil Fuels'

If we want to accelerate the world's renewable energy transition, we'll have to modernize the electric grid and we'll need much better batteries. Just look at Germany, which generates so much clean energy on particularly windy and sunny days that electricity prices are often negative.

Sure this is good news for a German person's wallet, but as the New York Times noted, "Germany's power grid, like most others around the world, has not yet adapted to the increasing amounts of renewable energy being produced."

Keep reading... Show less

The Future of Food: 8 Business Leaders Investing to End Slaughterhouses

From Silicon Valley tech moguls to business executives and entrepreneurs, these people know that the future of food means not slaughtering animals.

Keep reading... Show less

Oil Spill Spreading in East China Sea 'Now the Size of Paris'

By Andy Rowell

There are increasing environmental and health concerns surrounding the oil spill in the East China Sea from the Iranian registered tanker, the Sanchi, which sank on Monday carrying 136,000 tons, or one million barrels, of a highly flammable oil mix called condensate.

The tanker had burned for a week before exploding after colliding with another ship on Jan. 6, with all 32 crew now presumed dead or missing.

Keep reading... Show less

‘Tide Pod Challenge’ Highlights Danger of Colorful Laundry Packets

By Samara Geller

An unbelievably dumb and extremely dangerous dare has gone viral on social media. It's the "Tide Pod Challenge": biting down on the small, colorful—and potentially poisonous—packets of liquid laundry detergent until they burst in your mouth. Children, teens and young adults are posting videos of themselves taking the challenge—with the gagging, spitting and coughing that follows.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Arizona lost out on $27 million of revenue during the 2013 government shutdown, with the Grand Canyon alone amounting for $17 million of it. Anna Irene / Flickr

National Parks, Monuments May Remain Open But Unstaffed if Government Shuts Down

You might want to reconsider your plans if you intend to visit a national park this weekend. While the park might be open, there probably won't be any rangers on site, which could pose a serious risk to safety.

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to keep many national parks and monuments open if the government shuts down on Friday, the Washington Post reported. The move is meant to avoid the public outrage sparked by the closure of parks and memorials during the 2013 shutdown.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure

Divers Discover World’s Largest Flooded Cave

Diving enthusiasts, could this be your next great adventure?

Archaeologists and divers with Gran Acuífero Maya (GAM)—a project dedicated to the study and preservation of the Yucatan peninsula—claim to have discovered the world's longest underwater cave just outside of Tulum, Mexico.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Pexels

3 Reasons to Be Hopeful About Our P​lanet in 2018

By Elizabeth Sturcken

Feeling down about our planet in 2018? Don't!

There are many reasons to be hopeful around environmental action in the new year—and if the following developments don't make you feel better, I've prescribed some action steps at the end that are guaranteed to set you on a healthier, happier path.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!