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Daily News Blog

20
Feb

Bader Farms Wins $265 Million in Lawsuit Against Bayer’s Monsanto, BASF

(Beyond Pesticides, February 20, 2020) Missouri’s largest peach farm, Bader Farms, is set to receive $265 million in compensation from two multinational agrichemical companies after the companies’ dicamba-based weed killers caused widespread damage to the farm’s fruit trees. Bayer’s Monsanto and BASF were found to be responsible for negligence in the design of their dicamba herbicides, and failure to warn farmers about the dangers of their products. The jury determined that the joint venture between the two companies amounted to a conspiracy to create an “ecological disaster” in the name of profit.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved Bayer Monsanto’s release of a new line of genetically engineered (GE) seeds designed to tolerate repeated spraying of dicamba. With glyphosate resistant ‘super-weeds’ widespread and threatening GE farmer’s yields, the company aimed to redeploy dicamba, one of the oldest herbicides in the market, on cotton and soybeans throughout the U.S. Knowing the propensity of dicamba to drift for miles off site, Bayer’s Monsanto promised a new product line with much lower volatility.  But as the company was waiting on approval for this product by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it nonetheless began selling its dicamba-tolerant seeds.

This led to widespread reports of non-target crop damage, as farmers began illegally spraying older dicamba formulations, including those produced by BASF, on the new GE crops. Bayer’s Monsanto rejected any accountability for the actions they perpetuated. Bader Farm’s lawsuit argued that the company could have prevented the problem had they not released the GE seeds prior to the EPA-approved formulation.

While BASF and Bayer’s Monsanto were found liable of conspiring to create an ecological disaster, nontarget drift and damage did not stop when the companies received final EPA approval for their new dicamba formulations. Emails obtained by reporters at the Arkansas Democrat and Chronicle showed that field trials conducted alongside Bayer’s Monsanto found high levels of volatility and drift from the supposed low drift formulation. Despite the company’s close involvement in field testing, Bayer’s Monsanto balked at a more protective buffer zone of 443 ft, pushing instead for one set at 57 feet. EPA scientists agreed with the more protective buffer, but were apparently overruled by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

This is the second instance in recent history where stricter regulations may have helped the agrichemical industry avoid or avert litigation. In the context of lawsuits that may cost Bayer $10 billion, EPA’s reapproval of glyphosate without any cancer warning label was compared to the Surgeon General approving cigarettes without a warning label. “Imagine if there was no tobacco settlement and that cigarettes were still sold without a Surgeon General warning label,” said Bloomberg reporter Adam Allington on twitter. “People would be suing left and right over product defect claims, and failure to warn. And they would be winning.”

USDA could have refused (as Beyond Pesticides urged) or delayed approval of dicamba-tolerant GE seeds without a corresponding herbicide, and EPA could have imposed stricter buffers after damage reports became widespread. But in comedic and tragic irony, the agrichemical industry’s ability to run roughshod over U.S. regulatory systems has led to significant liability within the U.S. justice system.

Reports indicate that the Bader Farms lawsuit was a trial balloon for a rash of similar suits against the two companies waiting in the cue, much like the first glyphosate cancer case with California landscaper Dewayne Johnson. The jury verdict, $15 million in actual and $250 million in punitive damages, will be appealed by the companies.

While hope springs eternal that agrichemical companies will change their approach and embrace a method of crop production that does not poison land and harm public health, it is critical that we call out regulators like EPA for their failure to follow sound science. Although the agency itself not on trial, EPA remains complicit in the continued use of hazardous dicamba. Help us send a message to EPA today: Do Your Job to Protect Health and the Environment.  

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Reuters

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