(Beyond Pesticides, December 12, 2016) On November 23, Bill Bader of Bader farms, Missouri’s largest peach farm with over 1,000 acres and 110,000 peach trees, filed a suit against the multinational, agrichemical giant Monsanto. Mr. Bader seeks compensation for extensive damags to his peach trees, which he blames on the illegal, or non-labeled, use of the toxic herbicide dicamba, brought on by sales of Monsanto’s new, genetically engineered (GE), dicamba-tolerant crops. Mr. Bader is projected to lose $1.5 million in revenue from the crop damage. The case was filed in the Circuit Court of Dunklin County, an area that has been hit especially hard by alleged illegal dicamba spraying. The farm’s insurance company refuses to cover damages from any illegal herbicide use. Without compensation for the damages, the farm risks going out of business. The illegal use of dicamba in this case is not an isolated incident. There have been many disputes in the Midwest over the illegal spraying of dicamba and subsequent crop damage due to pesticide drift. Numerous news reports over the past two months in southern soybean growing regions have found that many farmers are, in response to weeds on their farms that have become resistant to glyphosate (Roundup), illegally applying dicamba-based herbicide that are not labeled for use on Monsanto’s new GE crops.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) deregulated Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant Roundup Ready 2 Xtendâ„¢ soybeans and Bollgard II ®XtendFlexâ„¢ cotton in January 2015. but it was not until November 2016 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered the use of specific dicamba formulations, Xtendimaxâ„¢ and VaporGripâ„¢ for use these crops. Monsanto describes the dicamba-tolerant GE crops as “designed to provide farmers with more consistent, flexible control of weeds, especially tough-to-manage and glyphosate-resistant weeds to maximize crop yield potential.” What was viewed by industry and EPA several years ago as a unique occurrence, weed resistance is now acknowledged to be a serious economic problem for farmers. While the agrichemical industry and its researchers can no longer ignore weed resistance to pesticides, it continues to promote more chemical applications in GE crops as the solution, despite the success of organic systems.
Mr. Bader claims that dicamba, has killed more than 30,000 peach trees since 2015. Current dicamba formulations are extremely susceptible to pesticide drift. Dicamba is harmful even after it is deposited on target crops due to its ability to vaporize off leafy surfaces at moderate temperatures, where it is then reintroduced into the atmosphere. A study published by Pennsylvania State scientists in late 2015 found dicamba drift was “frequently responsible for sublethal, off-target damage” to plants and insects. Researchers found that even very low rates of dicamba herbicide exposure negatively impacted plant flowering, and thus insect pollination. Increased illegal dicamba use is suspected to have been on the rise since 2015, when Monsanto released their new dicamba-resistant line of crops.
Monsanto’s previous herbicide of choice, Roundup, has faced issues with weed resistance. Over the years, weeds and undesirable vegetation have adapted and evolved to have a genetic resistance to Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate. This led Monsanto to reformulate their seeds to be resistant to dicamba, which still shows effectiveness against weeds. The herbicide formulations registered by are said to be less volatile and safer than previous dicamba formulations. Since Xtend crops were registered in 2015, this left a one year gap in which farmers were provided a new seed to cultivate with, yet left without a herbicide approved for use. Many farmers, including Bill Bader, surmise that this led to the illegal, off-label use of other volatile dicamba formulations.
“The losses will certainly be in the millions,” said Bev Randles of Randles & Splittgerber, a Kansas City law firm in a statement to St. Luois Post Dispatch. The impact of the damages to Bader’s farm are, “more long-term and farther-reaching,” according to Randles. With Bader Farms expected to double its financial loses by next year, they predict the farm will be out of the peach business by 2019.
The lawsuit asserts that illegal spraying could have been more limited, if not prevented, had Monsanto not released the seeds before the subsequent herbicide XtendiMax was approved for use. “The issue here is one of ”˜foreseeability,’” said Ms. Randles. “It was entirely foreseeable that if Monsanto released the Xtend products onto the market that farmers would seek a way to protect those Xtend seeds from damage and they would do that by spraying dicamba.”
Monsanto did take steps to notify and inform farmers before the 2016 growing season that the use of dicamba was not yet approved for in-crop use, and expressed that they do not condone the illegal use of any pesticide. Monsanto, in a recent statement, said the lawsuit, “attempts to shift responsibility away from individuals who knowingly and intentionally broke state and federal law and harmed their neighbors in the process. Responsibility for these actions belongs to those individuals alone.”
This is the first lawsuit that has been waged against Monsanto over illegal dicamba spraying, and is supported by Beyond Pesticides. Dicamba has been linked to damage of the kidney and liver, neurotoxicity, and developmental impacts. While Missouri lawmakers contemplate increasing fines on illegal pesticide applications, ultimately, this problem will need to be addressed on a structural scale, as chemical-intensive farmers will need to diversify the crops they plant and implement other cultural practices to deter weeds, such as cover crops, crop rotation, and intercropping. Food distribution systems will also need to shift to accommodate greater diversity in farmer fields. Organic agriculture represents a time-tested approach to managing weeds and avoiding resistance problems that plague GE cropping systems. With organic, the use of toxic synthetic herbicides and GE seeds is prohibited, and farmers must craft an organic systems plan aimed at improving soil health and managing pests and weeds should they arise.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: St Louis Post Dispatch