Monsanto/Bayer’s self-inflicted problems with the dicamba herbicide

Week killers do their job but also cause problems: illness among people exposed to them (especially farm workers), induction of resistance, and killing weeds in places they are not supposed to be.

Illnesses: The most well known is the non-Hodgkins lymphoma associated with use of glyphosate (Roundup).

Weed resistance: This chart from the University of Minnesota shows the number of species resistant to various kinds of herbicides from 1955 to 2020.  GMO crops resistant to glyphosate were first approved in 1994.

Herbicide drift:  This has been a  particular problem with the weed killer dicamba used with GMO corn and soybeans.  It has a particular problem: it drifts, and does so inconveniently over organically produced crops that are not weed resistant, thereby killing them and making organic farmers extremely unhappy but without recourse, apparently.

Now an investigative report from In These Times demonstrates how Monsanto and BASF, the makers of dicamba, knew perfectly well that it drifted and would cause extensive damage, but sold it anyway.

Exec­u­tives from Mon­san­to and BASF, a Ger­man chem­i­cal com­pa­ny that worked with Mon­san­to to launch the sys­tem, knew their dicam­ba weed killers would cause large-scale dam­age to fields across the Unit­ed States but decid­ed to push them on unsus­pect­ing farm­ers any­way, in a bid to cor­ner the soy­bean and cot­ton markets.

The investigation found:

  • [Mon­san­to’s] own research showed dicam­ba mixed with oth­er her­bi­cides was more like­ly to cause dam­age. The com­pa­ny also pre­vent­ed inde­pen­dent sci­en­tists from con­duct­ing their own tests and declined to pay for stud­ies that would poten­tial­ly give them more infor­ma­tion about dicamba’s real-world impact.
  • Although adver­tised as help­ing out cus­tomers, the com­pa­nies’ inves­ti­ga­tions of drift inci­dents were designed to lim­it their lia­bil­i­ty, find oth­er rea­sons for the dam­age and nev­er end with pay­outs to farm­ers. For exam­ple, BASF told pes­ti­cide appli­ca­tors that some­times it is not safe to spray even if fol­low­ing the label to the let­ter, plac­ing lia­bil­i­ty square­ly on the applicators.

As for recourse:

A fed­er­al court banned the her­bi­cide ear­li­er this year, but the EPA rein­stat­ed dicam­ba for five more years in October.

Ear­li­er this year, a fed­er­al jury sided with a Mis­souri peach farmer who sued the com­pa­nies for dri­ving his orchard out of busi­ness. The jury award­ed Bill Bad­er $15 mil­lion for his loss­es and $250 mil­lion in puni­tive dam­ages designed to pun­ish Bay­er. Bay­er and BASF are appeal­ing the ver­dict. The puni­tive dam­ages were lat­er reduced to $60 mil­lion.

This report is well worth reading for its detailed review of documents.  These demonstrate that Monsanto and BASF could not have cared less about the damage their herbicide might cause.  Monsanto has been purchased by Bayer, which defends its purchase to the hilt.

Bayer’s stock prices declined dramatically after the Monsanto purchase.  It’s hard to feel sorry for either company.