Farmers in 10 states can join a possible class action lawsuit against Monsanto over the illegal use of dicamba that damaged their crops because of tine introduction of the company’s Xtend line of GM crops that are immune to the herbicide. AgWeb has a story about it here if you want to take a peek.
The situation is a bit complicated so let me explain what’s going on.
A lot of weeds are becoming resistant to RoundUp and its generic equivalents. Dicamba is an herbicide that has been in use for quite a while already to fight broadleaf weeds, but it wasn’t used in this type of application because it was also toxic to the crops until Monsanto came out with it’s Xtend line which is resistant to it as well as glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp. Monsanto’s plan was to market Xtend seeds along with a new herbicide that blended dicamba with glyphosate in order to deal with weeds that were resistant to glyphosate alone.
The problem comes in because Monsanto started selling the Xtend seed before the new herbicide blend was approved for use by the government.
This is an important point. Dicamba is nasty stuff to work with. It vaporizes very easily while it is being applied, and the vapors can drift for long distances even on a relatively calm day, killing or damaging plants in fields far beyond the field being sprayed. The new herbicide blend contained dicamba in a form that was not as volatile and was safer to use as long as it was applied correctly with the right equipment. The new blend would help to prevent the herbicide drifting.
Even though the new herbicide wasn’t available, Monsanto started selling Xtend seed anyway. And you can see what’s coming, can’t you?
That’s right; now that they had a dicamba resistant seed, some growers drenched their fields with regular dicamba, ignored the application warnings and restrictions, and ended up with herbicide drifting all over the place causing damage to crops in the adjacent fields of other farmers. I’ve heard estimates that the amount of damage caused by drift is as high as 200,000 acres.
Oh, at least one murder that I know of. Yeah. Seriously. They actually shot someone over herbicide drift.
So, as the headline asks, whose fault is it?
The suit claims it’s Monsanto’s fault. They should not have released the new seeds into the market until the new herbicide designed to go with it was ready to go as well. They should have known that some growers would abuse the system and use dicamba herbicides off-label and illegally as soon as they had their hot little hands on the new seeds.
Monsanto says wait just a minute, we didn’t spray the stuff. We warned them not to, and to wait until the new herbicide was ready to go. It’s their fault, not ours.
The other side counters that any rational person should have realized that if the seed was put on sale without the herbicide some growers would use the unapproved and dangerous form of the herbicide…
And so it goes around, and around, and around. This will probably be lurching through the court system for years…
So what is the answer to that question up there? Whose fault is it?
This is one of those situations where I think both sides have a valid point. As Monsanto claims, it did not do the spraying. It’s recommendations for use indicated that Xtend seeds were to be used only with approved herbicides and approved application techniques. Once it sold the seed, it has no control over what the growers do afterwards.
On the other hand, why put seed up for sale where the primary benefit of using it is to enable the use of a herbicide that was not yet legal to use? Monsanto knew there was no reason to buy the new seed unless the growers were going to make use of the seeds capability of withstanding dicamba…
What do I think about all of this? My issues with the whole thing are at a more fundamental level. I think we’ve become locked into methods of food production that are basically unsustainable over the long haul.
And we know that. We know that eventually herbicides are going to fail. They just are. We can’t keep up this endless cycle of having to develop new and ever more toxic herbicides as the old ones fail. It’s the same with insect control. The insect population eventually becomes resistant, and we have to start all over again. BT corn is a good example of this as the insects that are controlled by BT become resistant and begin to spread, and within a few more years we are going to have a root worm problem that was just as bad, if not worse, than it was before BT corn was introduced.
Side Note: I’m going to start trying to move away from talking about agriculture so much in the future. I’m not involved in the business any more, sold the farm a couple of years ago, so why do I still go babbling on and on and on about it when there are other things I’m interested in?
But then I’ve told myself that before and I keep coming back to it for some reason. Oh, well.
I’m going to try to push this onto other things I’m interested in; amateur radio and electronics, amateur astronomy, building furniture and fiddling with wood, photography…
This was never intended to be focused on a single topic in the first place, so I’m going to try to get back to that.