Dicamba’s day in court | Pesticide Action Network
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Dicamba’s day in court

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Damaged soy crop

Each year since Monsanto’s dicamba-resistant Xtend seeds hit the market, farmers and rural communities have braced for record levels of damaging pesticide drift. And each year, it’s happened

Long before the these genetically engineered seeds were developed, dicamba was well known to farmers as a highly volatile chemical. Dicamba simply doesn’t stay put, no matter how it’s applied.  

That’s why Bill Bader of Bader Farms, a peach farmer in Missouri, is taking a stand in a precedent-setting lawsuit against Bayer (which purchased Monsanto in 2018) and BASF, the developers of dicamba. 

What Monsanto & Co knew about dicamba drift

Bader’s peach trees were damaged by dicamba drift — and his lawsuit alleges the corporations knew their products would cause damage to farmers who were not using their dicamba-resistant seeds. The trial has unearthed internal documents showing Monsanto knew dicamba would drift, and expected thousands of complaints from farmers.

Monsanto developed dicamba-resistant seeds in response to the explosion of glyphosate-resistant weeds, now infesting close to 100 million U.S. farm acres. The resistance is directly linked to the spray-all approach pioneered with Roundup, Monsanto’s (later acquired by Bayer) flagship herbicide-resistant seed and chemical duo. The corporation’s response to herbicide resistance? Seeds engineered to withstand more and different herbicides — this time, dicamba. 

Bill Bader is hardly alone in his experience of dicamba drift. From its inception, the Xtend crop system was bound to cause problems for all kinds of farmers. From soybeans and cotton without the dicamba-resistant trait, to specialty crops like peaches and broccoli, drifting dicamba has created a far-reaching crisis. 

Unfortunately, recent national dicamba drift data is no longer being collected, and statewide data is spotty and difficult to locate. Even so, evidence of harm is clear. As of September 2019, the Illinois State Department of Agriculture had received 590 dicamba drift reports, up from 330 last year. Indiana had 140 reports, and, in Arkansas, nearly 200 were reported. Though this sampling of numbers is just a snapshot from a few locations, we know these numbers are high and on the rise, and that pesticide drift often goes unreported.

Stopping the crisis 

While farmers like Bill who don’t plant dicamba-resistant crops are hit with crop damage and yield loss from the drifting herbicide, Bayer is reaping financial gains from increases acres planted in dicamba-resistant soybeans. It’s a lose-lose for farmers, and a win-win for dicamba’s corporate developers. 

That’s why Bill is fighting for a win in court. 

The fact is, our federal regulatory agencies failed to prevent this dicamba drift crisis from the start. The U.S. Department of Agriculture swiftly approved Xtend seeds that were genetically engineered to withstand both glyphosate and dicamba application back in 2015. And in 2016, EPA approved the use of dicamba on these seeds, ignoring evidence that even the “improved” formulation of the herbicide is drift-prone, and toxic to conventional soybeans, fruits, vegetables, trees and many other plants. 

In response to our public agencies’ failure to defend the public interest, PAN filed a lawsuit against EPA in 2017, challenging the decision to approve the dicamba formulation Xtendimax (this lawsuit is ongoing). 

And we know action is possible at the state level, too. Illinois, Arksansas, Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota are among several states that have implemented stricter cutoff dates or other restrictions on dicamba applications in an effort to prevent drift. 

Though Bill’s peach farm was harmed by dicamba drift, we know it doesn’t have to be this way. Stay tuned, we’ll be keeping a close eye on this case against Bayer and BASF in the days ahead! 

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