Multi-billion dollar agribusiness company Monsanto – maker of the infamous Agent Orange and one of the most hated corporations in the world – appears to have reached a new level of trickery.
After unleashing RoundUp Ready genetically modified (GM) crops in the 1990s, which has caused the emergence of several “superweeds” resistant to glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundUp), the biotech giant is eager to cash in on a new arms race of weeds and herbicide.
In spring, Monsanto started selling new GM crops called RoundUp Ready Xtend, which are resistant to both glyphosate and dicamba. Dicamba is more toxic than glyphosate and has been around for decades, but existing formulas are highly volatile and drift easily to non-target crops – which is why spraying of older dicamba products is forbidden by the EPA.
However, Monsanto invested a billion dollars into a new dicamba formula called VaporGrip which it claims is much less volatile. The problem is, VaporGrip hasn’t been approved for commercial sale yet, but Monsanto went ahead and released dicamba-resistant crops onto the market anyway.
The company claims it instructed farmers not to spray the new crops with dicamba, but the expectation that farmers would resist the urge to spray glyphosate-resistant weeds in their fields is so incredibly naive that it begs the question of whether Monsanto anticipated and welcomed the fallout that would ensue.
As spring turned into summer, agricultural agencies in several states began getting unusually high numbers of reports from farmers of herbicide drift damaging their crops, including tomatoes, melons, peaches and non-resistant soybean crops. In four counties in Missouri, the Dept. of Agriculture received 100 complaints of drift since late June, which exceeds the usual statewide caseload for the entire year.
Farmers are expecting 10 to 30 percent loss of yield this year from dicamba drift. The very survival of Missouri’s largest peach farm is at stake.
“[Bill Bader] says the farm’s typical harvest of 5 million to 6 million pounds may be reduced by 40 percent this year, as trees with withered or missing leaves have borne smaller fruit. Bader reports that almost 10,000 other trees mustered only walnut-sized peaches not even worth picking. He says the shortfall will amount to a loss of produce of $1.5 million to $2 million.
And it could get worse. By next spring, Bader worries that he may lose up to 450 acres of trees — half his total — from suspected drift. He has already determined that 200 to 250 acres are irreparably damaged and need to be removed, and he’ll see whether another 150 to 200 acres of trees can improve by spring. If not, they’ll get “pushed” with a bulldozer.
Bader blames the problem on people he calls “dicamba outlaws” — area farmers suspected of unauthorized or “off-label” use of the herbicide.”
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The peach tree damage shows all the symptoms of dicamba drift, and Bader has seen it before. Last year, when dicamba-resistant cotton was introduced, Bader’s peach trees showed similar signs of drift damage, although less severe. Indeed, tests showed the presence of dicamba in affected trees.
Kevin Bradley, of the University of Missouri’s division of plant sciences, and a lead scientist for the university’s agricultural extension, said “everything he’s seen suggests dicamba is responsible for crop damage on farms across the area…”
Of course, farmers illegally spraying old formulas of dicamba are part of the problem, but Monsanto’s release of dicamba-resistant crops before their low-volatile dicamba product was approved for market is a glaring abdication of responsibility.
Or was it a calculated move?
Now that dicamba drift is causing a huge problem in multiple states, there will be pressure on regulatory agencies to rapidly approve the sale of Monsanto’s new VaporGrip dicamba product – after the company bet big by putting a billion dollars into its production.
Let's not forget that regulatory agencies approved the sale of dicamba-resistant crops before the associated dicamba spray was approved, and could not have been ignorant to the fact that farmers would turn to old dicamba formulas. Considering the revolving door of regulators and biotech corporations, it would come as no surprise to learn the agencies were complicit in this scheme.
Monsanto has made it inevitable that dicamba, more toxic than glyphosate, will be poured over millions of acres of U.S. farmland, in addition to glyphosate which is labeled as a probable carcinogen. Besides the toxic effects this will have on the ecosystems and humans, the dicamba flood will cause more superweeds to develop, which will, in turn, spur the development of new GM crops resistant to even more toxic herbicides.
Pigweed, the superweed that is bedeviling farmers who've become dependent on the chemical cycle, can become tolerant to dicamba after just three generations, according to a University of Arkansas study.
This comes as bad news for everyone but Monsanto, which stands to rake in even more profits as superweeds keep emerging, and the agribusiness giant develops and reaps profits from the next round of herbicides and associated GM crops.