I haven’t done an ag related post in quite a while so it’s kind of sad that the first one I do involves something like this, but the whole dicamba thing could have the potential to do a hell of a lot of damage.
To summarize, Bayer (now the owner of Monsanto) and BASF which also makes a dicamba product, were found guilty of being responsible for significant damage to a peach orchard in Missouri and liable for $15 million in damages. The companies will almost certainly appeal, of course. The companies are claiming that the peach trees were already dying from disease, it seems. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can be sure that as with glyphosate, the other product Monsanto/Bayer is being sued over, the dicamba problem has armies of lawyers lining up at the doors of court houses all over the country to file suits.
I’ve talked about dicamba before, but here’s a brief recap: Dicamba is a rather powerful herbicide with some serious problems. One of the biggest is that it vaporizes easily and can then drift for long distances, some claim for miles, and cause significant damage or even kill plants that are not resistant to it. Monsanto (now Bayer) and BASF (which has a similar product) claim that their version of the stuff has special additives which prevent it from vaporizing so easily. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case because as soon as the stuff came into widespread use for dicamba resistant soybeans, hundreds, even thousands of reports of damage to non-resistant soybeans, other crops, trees, bushes and ornamental plants began to flood in.
The response of Monsanto and others making and selling the stuff has been to blame everyone and everything, except themselves. The damage isn’t from their product, they claim. Or the plants were already diseased. Or people were using the product the wrong way, applying it wrong, even using non-approved and illegal dicamba formulas the companies didn’t make. But when it comes down to it, it seems that the only people who believe the companies’ claims are the PR departments issuing the statements.
Despite increasingly strict regulations, strict training requirements, restrictions as to when it can be applied, etc., the alleged problems haven’t gone away. If anything, they seem to have gotten worse. A lot of farmers are being forced to plant Monsanto’s dicamba resistant beans (at a steep cost) just to keep from losing their crops in case their neighbors use the stuff. (And some farmers are claiming that’s exactly what the company hoped would happen.)
Monsanto (well, BASF now because they’ve inherited all of Monsanto’s problems after buying the company) is already facing hundreds, even thousands of lawsuits over alleged health problems caused by glyphosate, the active ingredient in it’s RoundUp herbicide. And those suits haven’t been going very well for the company so far. And now the dicamba thing? The company is going to be tied up in the courts for years, if not decades.
When Monsanto began to shop around for a buyer some years ago I wondered why. The company was in reasonably decent financial shape, it had product lines that would be profitable for a significant time and it had other products in the pipeline that looked promising. It didn’t seem to make any sense to me that the company would be trying to sell itself off to someone and even acting a bit, well, desperate about it.
Well, now I can guess why. Was the company foreseeing the upcoming legal problems? Did the upper management know that they would be facing possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees, penalties, lawsuits and possible government intervention over their products in the near future and desperately needed a way to bail themselves out before the storm hit?
Is BASF management now very, very much regretting it ever heard of Monsanto? Frankly I never understood why BASF wanted to buy Monsanto in the first place. Even back then the Monsanto was facing lawsuits not just in the US but in the EU as well over the alleged health issues with glyphosate, and there were already problems with dicamba drift showing up. The potential liabilities were huge.
But that’s the problem with a lot of companies – the upper management, the people who make the decisions, are almost never held personally responsible for the decisions they make. Look at what happened at Yahoo. The last CEO of the company oversaw the company descend into chaos with one failed project and acquisition after another, and all the while collected a ridiculously huge salary, and left with a multi-million dollar payout when the company fell into oblivion and was sold off for pennies on the dollar. Above a certain level at a company, there seem to be no adverse consequences for failure. They get their money whether the company sinks or swims.