We live at a time when figuring out how to feed an already-oversized global population (relative to the earth’s natural resources and known agricultural methods) is a monumental task. But Monsanto seems determined to take shortcuts that do as much harm as good. And that is probably putting it too politely, considering the number of times their misdeeds come to our attention (thanks to National Public Radio, USA):
by Dan Charles, August 1, 2016
When agricultural extension agent Tom Barber drives the country roads of eastern Arkansas this summer, his trained eye can spot the damage: soybean leaves contorted into cup-like shapes.
He’s seeing it in field after field. Similar damage is turning up in Tennessee and in the “boot-heel” region of Missouri. Tens of thousands of acres are affected.
This is no natural phenomenon of weather or disease. It’s almost certainly the result of a crime. The disfigured leaves are evidence that a neighboring farmer sprayed a herbicide called dicamba, probably in violation of the law.
Dicamba has been around for decades, and it is notorious for a couple of things: It vaporizes quickly and blows with the wind. And it’s especially toxic to soybeans, even at ridiculously low concentrations.
Damage from drifting pesticides isn’t unfamiliar to farmers. But the reason for this year’s plague of dicamba damage is unprecedented. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” says Bob Scott, a weed specialist from the University of Arkansas. “This is a unique situation that Monsanto created.”
The story starts with Monsanto because the St. Louis-based biotech giant launched, this year, an updated version of its herbicide-tolerant soybean seeds. This new version, which Monsanto calls “Xtend,” isn’t just engineered to tolerate sprays of glyphosate, aka Roundup. It’s also immune to dicamba.
Monsanto created dicamba-resistant soybeans (and cotton) in an effort to stay a step ahead of the weeds. The strategy of planting Roundup-resistant crops and spraying Roundup to kill weeds isn’t working so well anymore, because weeds have evolved resistance to glyphosate. Adding genes for dicamba resistance, so the thinking went, would give farmers the option of spraying dicamba as well, which would clear out the weeds that survive glyphosate.
There was just one hitch in the plan. A very big hitch, as it turned out. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet approved the new dicamba weedkiller that Monsanto created for farmers to spray on its new dicamba-resistant crops. That new formulation of dicamba, according to Monsanto, has been formulated so that it won’t vaporize as easily, and won’t be as likely to harm neighboring crops. If the EPA approves the new weedkiller, it may impose restrictions on how and when the chemical may be used.
But, Monsanto went ahead and started selling its dicamba-resistant soybeans before this herbicide was approved. It gave farmers a new weed-killing tool that they couldn’t legally use.
Monsanto says it did so because these seeds weren’t just resistant to dicamba; they also offered higher yields, which farmers wanted. In an email to The Salt, Phil Miller, Monsanto’s vice president for global regulatory and government affairs, wrote that “there’s incredible value in the Xtend technology independent of herbicide applications: There is great demand for strong yield performance and our latest industry leading genetics.” Monsanto says it also made it clear to farmers that they were not allowed to spray dicamba on these dicamba-resistant beans.
Farmers themselves, however, may have had other ideas. Robert Goodson, an agricultural extension agent in Phillips County, Ark., believes that some farmers were hoping that the EPA would approve the new dicamba weedkiller in the course of the growing season, so they’d get to spray it over their crops.
Or maybe some farmers secretly intended to violate the law, using regular old dicamba, even without EPA approval…
Read the whole article here.