By Dr. Mercola
The lawsuits against chemical technology giant Monsanto are multiplying fast these days. Not only is there a class-action lawsuit claiming the company’s best-selling herbicide Roundup caused Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in hundreds of plaintiffs — the outcome of which might influence Bayer’s decision to acquire Monsanto or back out of the deal — farmers are also ganging together to sue Monsanto over crop damage caused by its latest dicamba-containing herbicide.
As feared by many critics, any crop that is not genetically engineered (GE) to be resistant to dicamba is severely damaged by even small amounts of the herbicide — be it food crops, gardens or trees; even other GE crops resistant to herbicides other than dicamba will shrivel and die in its presence. Monsanto promised the XtendiMax with VaporGrip formula is engineered to be less volatile and prone to drift, but real-life effects suggest otherwise.
Dicamba Is an Indiscriminate Plant Killer
In July, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture reported investigating two dozen complaints involving dicamba damage caused by drift. As of late September, 368 complaints had been filed in Illinois, and Iowa had received 258 reports — a “record number” — by early September.
Farmers in Arkansas are reporting the same problem. In October 2016, a soybean farmer named Mike Wallace was shot to death in a dispute over dicamba damage caused by drift from a neighboring farm growing dicamba-resistant soy. The damage is so extensive, a number of states, including Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi, imposed temporary bans on the use of dicamba-containing pesticides this past summer. As reported by Star Tribune:
“Losses blamed on accidental chemical damage could climb into the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher, and may have a ripple effect on other products that rely on soybeans, including chicken. The number of complaints ‘far exceeds anything we’ve ever seen,’ Arkansas Plant Board Director Terry Walker recently told lawmakers.”
More Than 3 Million Acres Damaged by Next-Gen Herbicide
According to The New York Times, 25 million acres of dicamba-resistant soybeans and cotton were planted this year, and Monsanto has its sights set on expanding that to 40 million acres in 2018. Hailed as “the answer” to growing glyphosate resistance (thanks to its excessive use on Roundup Ready, i.e., glyphosate-resistant crops), dicamba-resistant plants have quickly turned into a nightmare for those who plant them, and their neighbors:
“’I’m a fan of Monsanto. I’ve bought a lot of their products,’ said Brad Williams, a Missouri farmer. ‘I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that there would be some kind of evil nefarious plot to put a defective product out there intentionally.’
Yet he has been dismayed both by damage to his soybean crops, which were within a wide area of farmland harmed by dicamba, and by the impact even to trees on his property. Leaves, he said, were ‘so deformed you couldn’t even really identify the differences between them.’”
So far, more than 3 million acres have been damaged by dicamba. Speaking with Ohio Valley Resource, Kentucky soybean farmer Jacob Goodman compares dicamba drift to “chemical arson” — a reference to the fact that affected plants will curl and shrivel from the chemical burns. He also notes that drift from neighboring farms growing dicamba-resistant crops is making it exceptionally difficult for non-dicamba farms to plan their production.
“Not only can we not tell the amount of crop that we can get at the end of the year, but we can’t price the market ahead in advance and make contracts because we don’t want to over-book and not be able to deliver this fall, because we have to pay the difference.”
Arkansas farmer Kenneth Qualls told The New York Times, “’It’s really divided the farming community … Some of these people who got victimized by this product are probably going to go out of business because of it. They’ll have to put up their equipment for auction, and the people bidding on it will be the ones who put them out of business.”
Dicamba Makers May Face Largest Chemical Liability Lawsuit Ever
The complaint alleges dicamba “is highly volatile and can travel considerable distances and cause injuries to plants several miles away,” and that dicamba makers “deceptively marketed their latest dicamba formulations as ‘low-volatility’ herbicides that would not be as prone to off-target movement.” In a statement, Morgan & Morgan attorney Rene Rocha said:
“This has been a major issue for American agriculture. Farmers across the country relied upon the defendants’ assurances that these new formulations of dicamba could be used safely and without harm to others. That simply isn’t true, and as a result thousands of farmers are staring down lean harvests and uncertain futures.”
The fact that dicamba is extremely potent and volatile (referring to its ability to turn into a gas) does not come as a surprise. The chemical has not been permitted to be used during growing season for this very reason. Older dicamba herbicides were only allowed to be used to kill weeds prior to planting — it could not be used on growing crops because it will kill everything.
Chemical Maker Forbid Independent Volatility Testing
Monsanto’s weed killer, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology — which goes along with its Roundup Ready Xtend cotton and soybeans — is made with “chemical technology” said to make the dicamba less prone to vaporization and drift. However, the real-world effects clearly indicate there are serious flaws.
What’s more, Monsanto appears to have willfully prevented key testing of the herbicide. Normally, when a new pesticide is developed, the company will commission tests that are then shared with regulators. Samples of the chemical are also shared with universities for analysis and testing. Together, regulators and researchers then assess the product’s safety and effectiveness.
In this case, Monsanto actually forbid university researchers to test XtendiMax with VaporGrip for its vaporization and drift potential (volatility testing), despite that being a crucial feature of the new herbicide. Monsanto has defended its decision to prevent testing calling it “unnecessary” because the company believes it to be “less volatile than a previous dicamba formula that researchers found could be used safely.”
However, summary notes from an Arkansas legislature’s joint budget committee meeting suggest there might have been a different incentive to prevent testing. Notes from the meeting state that Monsanto employee Boyd Carey “is on record on August 8 stating that the University of Arkansas nor any other university was given the opportunity to test VaporGrip in fear that the results may jeopardize the federal label.”
Dicamba Formulation Is Nearly Impossible to Apply Safely
According to Monsanto’s chief technology officer Robert Fraley, XtendiMax with VaporGrip “will not move off target and damage anyone” as long as it’s applied according to label instructions. Mind you, those instructions are nine pages long, and include strict limitations on when and how you can apply it. For example, proper application requires the farmer to spray while wind speeds are between 3 and 10 miles per hour.
The reason for the bottom wind speed is that when air is very still, it can signal a temperature inversion, which acts much like a lid. Pollutants are easily trapped below the inversion, where they can build up. But since wind speeds vary from one hour to the next on any given day, proper application becomes nearly impossible. Some university scientists have also noted that even if you manage to comply with these stringent application rules, the volatility of dicamba may still be an issue.
According to Aaron Hager, associate professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois, soy is so sensitive to dicamba, all you need to destroy 1 acre of soybeans is an amount equal to the spray when you open a can of Coke! In light of that, it’s hard to see how farmers growing dicamba-resistant crops could possibly avoid damaging other farms, not to mention other plant life and nearby trees.
Indeed, according to extension weed specialist Larry Steckel, many farmers complain they “can’t keep dicamba in the field” no matter how hard they try to follow the application rules.21 He also notes that temperature inversions “occur most days in Tennessee during June and July,” which makes it next to impossible to avoid off-target damage.
According to Ohio Valley Resource, there also appears to be a correlation between dicamba damage and areas located by rivers and in floodplains. Ohio farmer Jacob Goodman suspects “It’s something about the chemistry and the temperature inversions that happen in river bottoms that is causing this chemical to freely roam.”
Dicamba Maker Blames Farmer Ineptitude
Not surprisingly, Monsanto blames damage resulting from XtendiMax on farmer misapplication. Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy told The New York Times, “New technologies take some time to learn. Thus far, what we’ve seen in the field, the vast majority, more than three-quarters of them, has been due to not following the label.”
The question is, can the instructions actually be followed in real life? According to Bob Hartzler, an agronomy professor and weed specialist at Iowa State University, “The restriction on these labels is unlike anything that’s ever been seen before.” The class-action lawsuit filed by Morgan & Morgan claims the label instructions are “unrealistic,” and that the restrictions on wind speed disallow timely application of the weed killer.
As noted by a Missouri farmer, “You have to be a meteorologist to get it exactly right.” While some farmers admit to having difficulty following the label instructions, due to their complexity, other farmers rebuke Monsanto’s attempts to shift blame. As Arkansas farmer Qualls said, “We may be rural hicks, but we’re not stupid. We know how to apply chemicals. They are going to blame it on the farmer to reduce their liability.”
What’s more, because dicamba-resistant GE crops allow the chemical to be applied much later in the growing season, when temperatures and humidity levels are higher, it’s far more susceptible to volatility, meaning it turns into a gas. As a gas, it can no longer be controlled and spreads wherever the wind blows.
While Monsanto claims XtendiMax is 90 percent less volatile than old versions, without rigorous volatility testing, one has to question the accuracy of such claims. As noted by The New York Times, “While Monsanto and BASF modified the new versions of the herbicide they are selling, they have not entirely solved the problem. So much dicamba is being used that even a small percentage of drift can cause widespread damage.”
Bizarre Conflict of Interest Claims Emerge
A task force is now recommending the Arkansas State Plant Board ban use of all dicamba formulations on crops after April 15 in the 2018 growing season. Monsanto challenged the ban in September, claiming the decision was “tainted by the involvement” of University of Arkansas weed scientists Ford Baldwin and Jason Norsworthy.
According to Monsanto, the scientists’ ties to Bayer and its competing weed technology makes them less than objective in their critique of dicamba. The irony of the accusation has not gone unnoticed. As noted by The New York Times, “Considering that Bayer is acquiring Monsanto, it was an awkward step,” adding that “Bayer called the men ‘pre-eminent weed scientists.’” It remains to be seen if Monsanto’s accusations will backfire, rendering their position even more tenuous.
September 9, Mark Cochran, vice president of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, issued a statement defending the university’s scientists. According to Cochran, Monsanto’s petition to the Arkansas Plant Board is “an attack on the whole profession, scientists whose careful work is meant to be of benefit to everyone.” As a result of the allegations, Cochran vowed “to publish all data relevant to our dicamba work over the last few years.”
Farmers Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place
The problem many farmers now face is whether to hop on the bandwagon and start growing dicamba-resistant crops just to avoid having their harvest destroyed by other growers — thus rewarding Monsanto for its ill-conceived product and poor conduct. According to previous estimates, the approval of dicamba-resistant cotton and soy is expected to increase dicamba sales from less than 1 million pounds to more than 25 million pounds annually.
If growers start switching to dicamba-resistant seed just to protect themselves from drift damage, that number might go even higher. As noted by Missouri farmer Michael Kemp, “If you don’t buy Xtend [seeds], you’re going to be hurt. You’re going to have to buy their product because their chemical is drifting around.”
This, truly, would be a worst-case scenario, possibly endangering our environment as a whole. It would also pose extreme financial risks to farmers. If dicamba-resistant soybeans start monopolizing the market, makers will be able to charge whatever price they see fit for the seeds and chemicals.
Naturally, such a monopoly would also pose serious health risks to consumers, whose food choices would become more limited. Dicamba has been linked to a number of health risks, including Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, developmental and reproductive problems.
How to Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic Pesticides
There’s no doubt the dicamba problem needs to be addressed, and fast. Farmers will not be able to survive several seasons’ worth of crop destruction. I also worry about its impact on our environment at large. What if it starts to destroy forests and protected lands? There’s also no doubt in my mind that dicamba-resistant GE crops might cause serious health problems when consumed, and since the U.S. does not label GE foods, this really raises the stakes for those who are unaware of these issues.
What we need is more regenerative agriculture, and the most effective way for you to support that is by buying locally grown organic or biodynamic foods. If you live in the U.S., the following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods:
*Article originally appeared at Mercola.