Dicamba drift? This is on you, Monsanto. | Pesticide Action Network
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Dicamba drift? This is on you, Monsanto.

Marcia Ishii's picture
Dicamba pesticide spray

Like a wildfire burning out of control, the epidemic of dicamba drift blowing across 20 states this summer has already damaged over three million acres of soybean cropland. Adding to the list of some 2,200 reported herbicide injuries are likely many more damaged acres of fruit and vegetable farms, vineyards, trees, home gardens, hedgerows and plant habitats critical to pollinators and other wildlife.

Monsanto — maker of the dicamba herbicide at fault, and the genetically engineered dicamba-resistant crops implicated in the crisis — has been quick to blame farmers. But farmers are clear that the pesticide and biotech seed giant is responsible for this mess. And they want the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pull these products from the market. Now.

Chemical arms race to the bottom

For decades, Monsanto has enjoyed unrivaled dominance in the pesticide and biotech seed marketplace. However, in recent years, the company’s monopoly control of agricultural seeds and pesticides — built largely on the marketing of its genetically engineered Roundup Ready seeds designed to maintain sale of its flagship herbicide Roundup — has begun to crack. Farmers have been struggling with the emergence and spread of RoundUp-resistant “superweeds” now infesting over 90 million acres of farmland. RoundUp has been found in nearly all stream and air samples tested in the Midwest. And the World Health Organization has concluded that glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — is a probable carcinogen.

Rather than clean up its act, Monsanto has redoubled its efforts to follow the same recipe for disaster, racing against rivals like Dow AgroScience to introduce new lines of transgenic seeds engineered to resist even more chemical herbicides.

As I warned five years ago: “If you’re thinking that pouring more chemicals onto already devastated farmland sounds a bit like pouring gasoline on a fire, I’d have to agree with you.”

“It’ll be fine”

This is where the story headline goes from “disaster waiting to happen” to “disaster here and now.” Dicamba is a notoriously drift-prone herbicide. And it takes a ridiculously small amount of dicamba to severely damage a vulnerable crop. That’s why PAN, farmers and farm businesses have been warning USDA for years that if the agency approved Monsanto’s dicamba-resistant seeds, the accompanying surge in dicamba use would lead to a drift crisis that endangers farmer livelihoods across the country. And that's exactly what's happening.

Monsanto, meanwhile, has been quick to blame farmers and pesticide applicators for “improper use” or for applying the older, even more drift-prone formulations of dicamba. But who began pushing farmers to buy the dicamba-resistant seeds in the first place, before Monsanto’s supposedly less volatile dicamba was approved for sale? And whose sales representatives actually encouraged farmers to go ahead and apply the old dicamba products illegally, knowing the herbicide would drift, while telling them “it’ll be fine”?

That’s right. Monsanto. The result? Anything but fine.

Profit over reason

Turns out, it’s not only the old dicamba that is volatile. University researchers have found that Monsanto’s much-hyped new dicamba product — the one that farmers have been spraying this season — is also volatile and prone to drift. So why did EPA ever approve such a product in the first place?

Quite simply, industry greed won out. EPA only looked at Monsanto’s volatility studies, which conveniently concluded, “it’ll be fine.” EPA did not look at independent researchers’ studies. Why? Because they hadn’t been done. And that’s because Monsanto actually prohibited researchers from testing the volatility claims the company was making about its product before it had secured EPA approval.

“Monsanto does not listen to voices in the field or allow public testing of its products.”

Monsanto justified its refusals to allow independent study of its product by stating that such investigations could slow down EPA’s approval process. EPA, for its part, did not seem to mind the lack of thorough research. As University of Missouri weed scientist Kevin Bradley said,

Many of my colleagues would have liked to do volatility research and were not allowed. There’s a strong stipulation about what we can research and what we can’t.”

Farmers have had enough

This week, 85 farms and farmer support organizations sent letters to USDA and EPA, demanding that these agencies take immediate action to rescind their approval of Monsanto’s dicamba-resistant seeds and dicamba products.

Missouri farmer, Wes Shoemyer, nailed it when he told us,

[Monsanto CEO] Robb Fraley’s definition of success is totally different from mine, as he gives no thought to the farmers who are ill-affected. I wouldn’t want him as my neighbor. Monsanto does not listen to voices in the field or allow public testing of its products. This is what happens when your seed company is also the chemical company.”

Wes is right. USDA and EPA, are you listening?

Marcia Ishii
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DicambaWorries's picture
DicambaWorries /
<p>First it was Roundup now it's dicamba? Monsanto is having a rough year in the press. I've been watching a number of these articles pop up and just doing a quick google search it looks like multiple &lt;a href="https://www.kishishlaw.com/dicamba-lawsuit"&gt;lawsuits&lt;a/&gt; are being brought forth against them as well. Doesn't seem to phase their stock as it's sitting at a healthy 117. 36 but I wonder if the pressure at least will yield some better business practices.&nbsp;</p>
Marcia Ishii's picture
Marcia Ishii /
<p>Good point! Responsible companies would take a look at the damage their products have wrought (and the bad press) and maybe re-think their business model. Unfortunately, Monsanto does not fall into that category, as is clearly demonstrated by their response to the Roundup crisis they created in the first place. Adding dicamba to the mix of what is drifting through the air has just made things very much worse for farmers and rural communities across the country.</p> <p>But get this! Now Monsanto is going on the offensive against Arkansas, the one state that dared stand up to protect its farmers by prohibiting dicamba applications that were linked to devastating drift damage to 900,000 acres of its cropland. Monsanto is bringing the full force of its legal department to bear down on AR, filing a petition to halt what they call an "unwarranted and misinformed ban on dicamba" (https://monsanto.com/products/product-stewardship/articles/monsanto-petition-regarding-dicamba/).</p> <p>Thanks for highlighting the importance of corporate accountability - not just to a company's quarterly gains but to the well-being of people and planet!</p>
AlexCanRant's picture
AlexCanRant /
<p>Since the EPA seems to not understand the precautionary principle I think we need a new way to make incentives line up. Perhaps pesticide companies should be financially liable for the consequences of their harmful products, with a significant punative damages multiplier to encourage them to be more rigorous in their science.</p> <p>Afterall, if the cost to the company of an unsafe isn't greater than the profit they earned on the pesticide, then aren't we effectively making it profitable for them to poison our land?</p>
Marcia Ishii's picture
Marcia Ishii /
<p>Couldn't agree more with you, Alex! For far too long, we've allowed companies like Monsanto to get away with poisoning our communities and the environment. Now even cropland is being destroyed by Monsanto's own products, to the tune of millions of acres. Financial liability for the widespread harm caused by their products (with that punitive damages multiplier) would be an excellent step in the right direction. Thanks for reading and contributing!</p>
Miss Meow's picture
Miss Meow /
<p>Why don't we do a class action lawsuit against the EPA?&nbsp; What does ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION stand for anymore?&nbsp; What protection are they providing?&nbsp; They're providing that they'll have paychecks from Monsanto's payoffs [would love to be able to prove this one&nbsp;&amp; need Congress to investigate it]&nbsp; We need huge class action lawsuits against the EPA, Monsanto, Dow &amp; Bayer to protect not only the environment but also&nbsp;the people of the United States&nbsp;from what gets "trickled down" very effectively onto our dinner plates.</p>
Marcia Ishii's picture

Marcia Ishii is director of PAN’s Grassroots Science Program and a Senior Scientist with a background in insect ecology and pest management. Her campaign work focuses on supporting and strengthening agroecology movements and policies in the U.S. and globally, in addition to challenging corporate control of our food and seed systems. Follow @MarciaIshii