Trial is underway for the first of several dozen lawsuits brought by farmers against the manufacturers of dicamba, alleging that Monsanto knew that application of its herbicide would cause significant crop damage on neighboring farms, unless the agricultural giant’s genetically modified seed was used by all farmers.
A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri is considering testimony and evidence in a case brought by peach farmer Bill Bader, indicating that Monsanto Co. and German-based BASF Corporation knew about the risk of “dicamba drift”, where the herbicide may contaminate neighboring farms when applied. As a result, Bader claims this causes significant loss of yield, as well as loss of seed and progeny in future growing seasons on neighboring farms not using seeds genetically modified to provide resistance to the herbicide.
Dicamba, sold under the brand names Xtendimax, Engenia, and Fexapan, is a synthetic herbicide that has been used for years by farmers nationwide to control weeds. However, it has traditionally only been used during certain times of year.
Use of the herbicide increased dramatically after new seeds were introduced in 2016, designed to allow farmers to use dicamba “over-the-top”, where the herbicide is applied on crops emerging from the ground.
As a result of increased marketing and wider use of the genetically modified crops resistant to the herbicide over the past few years, farmers have been applying dicamba in much larger quantities and more frequently. However, as a result, nearby farmers who do not use the genetically modified crops have been experiencing significant crop damage when the herbicide drifts onto their crops, which do not have the genetic resistance.
Dozens of complaints have been filed since August 2017, alleging that Monsanto rushed the system to market and either withheld or concealed information from regulatory authorities about the volatility of dicamba-resistant crops.
The bellwether trial involves claims by the owner of Bader Farms in Missouri, who claims to have lost over 30,000 peach trees and has suffered a significant loss in production after his crops were exposed to dicamba drift. Bader claims his 5,000 acre farm is now struggling to survive, and seeks more than $20 million for damages to fruit trees and various other crops, claiming the manufacturers knew about the risk of dicamba drift, yet failed to warn consumers, regulators and innocent bystanders.
Bader Farms’ lawsuit, and several others filed against the developers of dicamba, allege Monsanto’s and the chemical giant BASF, marketed the new type of tolerant crop, which can withstand exposure to their herbicides, knowing it would cause severe and widespread damage to neighboring crops, essentially forcing other farmers to defensively plant crops using their resistant seed in future growing seasons.
The lawsuit claims the high volatility is seen as a feature by the manufacturers, meant to force other farmers to use their expensive products to grow dicamba-tolerant GMO crops if they don’t want to suffer losses when their neighbors spray.
As evidence, Bader has presented internal documents showing Monsanto anticipated it would receive thousands of complaints due to dicamba drift.
The case is viewed as a “bellwether” for similar dicambi crop damage lawsuits that have been filed over the last couple years, each raising similar allegations that Monsanto and BASF are to blame for the chemical catastrophe occurring on millions of acres of farmlands across the U.S.