Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms

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Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms

Mar 30, 2020 | 07:32 1

Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms

Missouri farmer Bill Bader won a $265m jury verdict against Monsanto and BASF after alleging his peach trees were damaged by the illegal use of the herbicide dicamba . Photograph: Bryce Gray/AP

Internal documents describe how to profit from farmer losses and desire to oppose some independent testing

by Carey Gillam

Mon 30 Mar 2020 10.15 BST
Last modified on Mon 30 Mar 2020 12.58 BST

The US agriculture giant Monsanto and the German chemical giant BASF were aware for years that their plan to introduce a new agricultural seed and chemical system would probably lead to damage on many US farms, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.

Risks were downplayed even while they planned how to profit off farmers who would buy Monsanto’s new seeds just to avoid damage, according to documents unearthed during a recent successful $265m lawsuit brought against both firms by a Missouri farmer.

The documents, some of which date back more than a decade, also reveal how Monsanto opposed some third-party product testing in order to curtail the generation of data that might have worried regulators.

And in some of the internal BASF emails, employees appear to joke about sharing “voodoo science” and hoping to stay “out of jail”.

The new crop system developed by Monsanto and BASF was designed to address the fact that millions of acres of US farmland have become overrun with weeds resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, best known as Roundup. The collaboration between the two companies was built around a different herbicide called dicamba.

In the Roundup system, farmers could spray glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup over the top of certain crops that Monsanto genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with the pesticide. This “glyphosate-tolerant” crop system has been popular with farmers around the world but has led to widespread weed resistance to glyphosate. The new system promoted by Monsanto and BASF similarly provides farmers with genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton that can be sprayed directly with dicamba. The weeds in the fields die but the crops do not.

Dicamba has been in use since the 1960s but traditionally was used sparingly, and not on growing crops, because it has a track record of volatilizing – moving far from where it is sprayed – particularly in warm growing months. As it moves it can damage or kill the plants it drifts across.

The companies announced in 2011 that they were collaborating in the development of the dicamba-tolerant cropping systems, granting each other reciprocal licenses, with BASF agreeing to supply formulated dicamba herbicide products to Monsanto.

The companies said they would make new dicamba formulations that would stay where they were sprayed and would not volatilize as older versions of dicamba were believed to do. With good training, special nozzles, buffer zones and other “stewardship” practices, the company’s assured regulators and farmers that the new system would bring “really good farmer-friendly formulations to the marketplace”.

But in private meetings dating back to 2009, records show agricultural experts warned that the plan to develop a dicamba-tolerant system could have catastrophic consequences. The experts told Monsanto that farmers were likely to spray old volatile versions of dicamba on the new dicamba-tolerant crops and even new versions were still likely to be volatile enough to move away from the special cotton and soybean fields on to crops growing on other farms.

Importantly, under the system designed by Monsanto and BASF, only farmers buying Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds would be protected from dicamba drift damage. Other cotton and soybean farmers and farmers growing everything from wheat to watermelons would be at risk from the drifting dicamba.

According to a report prepared for Monsanto in 2009 as part of industry consultation, such “off-target movement” was expected, along with “crop loss”, “lawsuits” and “negative press around pesticides”.

A 2015 document shows that Monsanto’s own projections estimated that dicamba damage claims from farmers would total more than 10,000 cases, including 1,305 in 2016, 2,765 in 2017 and 3,259 in 2018.

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Mar 30, 2020 | 08:13 2 What I don't understand is why farmers grow back to back to back glyphosate resistant crops. It would seem logical if you grow glyphosate resistent corn and soy continually that you will get resistent weeds. I also don't understand why you can't use a herbicide like atrazine which is intended for use on conventional corn on glyphosate resistent corn to go after resistent weeds. Maybe someone can enlighten me. As for the decision to create dicamba resistent crops, seems like a bad idea. Reply With Quote
Mar 30, 2020 | 10:16 3 So, in other words, they did a cost benefit analysis, and concluded that the benefits outweighed the costs. Isn't that the way any viable business makes decisions? No different than releasing medical drugs or new procedures, they always come with risks and side effects, and those potential costs are considered before release. If we are going to only release products with zero potential risks or unintended consequences, then that will be the end of progress. Reply With Quote
Mar 30, 2020 | 11:53 4 I guess the applicator / farmer wasn't at fault? Pretty messed up.

Articles say they (Bayer) didn't find any evidence of the product on the farm, they will appeal. Emotional decisions like the cancer cases, not scientific is getting crazy. Lawyers are never out of work. Reply With Quote
Mar 30, 2020 | 15:53 5 Dicamba round-up combination was introduced too widely and was used as a quick fix. Some used the unregistered dicamba round-up mix without safeners . Tried to cheap out and ended up with a mess. Even the safe mix caused problems on field scale versus plots when weather conditions were bad. Reply With Quote
Mar 30, 2020 | 18:04 6 dumb, lazy farmers relying on a single herbicide. Cant blame monsanto for that. Reply With Quote
Mar 30, 2020 | 18:08 7
Quote Originally Posted by MBgrower View Post
dumb, lazy farmers relying on a single herbicide. Cant blame monsanto for that.
Yup , that and the fact spraying that combo with 2-3 gal water like they are used to is a recipe for a train wreck with volatile Chem drift ... Reply With Quote
May 5, 2020 | 08:19 8
Quote Originally Posted by furrowtickler View Post
Yup , that and the fact spraying that combo with 2-3 gal water like they are used to is a recipe for a train wreck with volatile Chem drift ...
Blame monshito for this. Reply With Quote