Millions of acres of fields have been laid waste due to Monsanto’s herbicide Dicamba which did not undergo regular scrutiny as required by law.
With the U.S. growing season entered its peak this summer, farmers have begun posting pictures on social media networks which show their peach orchards, fields of beans, and vegetable gardens all withered away.
The startling photos have served as an early warning for a crisis that has left waste millions of acres of farmlands in its wake.
According to farmers, new versions of the herbicide dicamba, developed by Monsanto and BASF, have drifted across fields to crops unable to withstand it, a charge authorities are investigating.
With the crisis intensifying, new details are coming forth from regulators and independent researchers with previously unreported testimony by a company employee, which demonstrates the peculiar method adopted by Monsanto to introduce its product into the market.
Monsanto prevented key independent testing of its product which went unchallenged by the Environmental Protection Agency EPA as well as almost every state regulator.
Generally when a company develops a new agricultural product, it does it own testing and its results are shared with regulators. Furthermore, it also provides product samples to universities for additional scrutiny. They then collaborate together to determine the safety of the product.
In this case however, Monsanto denied requests by university researchers to study its XtendiMax with VaporGrip for volatility – a measure of its tendency to vaporize and drift across fields.
Researchers who were interviewed by Reuters, including Kevin Bradley from the University of Missouri, Jason Norsworthy from the University of Arkansas and Aaron Hager from the University of Illinois, said Monsanto provided samples of XtendiMax before it was approved by the EPA.
Significantly, the samples came with contracts that explicitly forbade volatility testing.
“This is the first time I’m aware of any herbicide ever brought to market for which there were strict guidelines on what you could and could not do,” said Norsworthy.
When asked to provide a copy of the Monsanto contracts, the researchers said they were not authorized to do so.
As per Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s Vice President of Global Strategy, it prevented the testing since it was unnecessary.
“To get meaningful data takes a long, long time,” he said. “This product needed to get into the hands of growers.”
In the summer of 2016, Boyd Carey a former employee from Monsanto, who is also an agronomist, laid out the company’s rationale for blocking the independent research at a hearing of the Arkansas Plant Board’s Pesticide Committee.
The meeting summary by the Arkansas Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee described Carey’s testimony as follows: “Boyd Carey is on record on Aug 8 stating that the University of Arkansas nor any other university was given the opportunity to test VaporGrip in fear that the results may jeopardize the federal label.”
Carey could not be reached for comment.
Monsanto declined to comment on his testimony.
Complaints on the damaged crops are still under investigation and as yet, there is no evidence to show that independent testing of XtendiMax’s volatility would have altered the course of the crisis. However, if that were to have happened, it would have given regulators a more complete picture of the formula’s properties before farmers are allowed to use it, said agricultural experts.
The EPA approved the product, without added testing in September 2016. It said it made its decision after reviewing company-supplied data, including some measuring volatility.
“EPA’s analysis of the data has shown reduced volatility potential with newer formulations,” said the EPA in its July 27 statement.
However, when asked to respond to the report on the damaged crops, EPA’s spokeswoman Amy Graham said the agency is “very concerned about the recent reports of crop damage” and is reviewing restrictions on dicamba labels.
As per Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer, Robert Fraley, “We firmly believe that our product if applied according to the instructions on the label will not move off target and damage anyone.”
Many states, including Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee said they do not seek more data if products pass EPA scrutiny.
“The EPA is the federal agency responsible for approving and registering pesticides for sale and use,” said Sarah Alsager, spokeswoman for Missouri Department of Agriculture. “The Department does not perform field testing or solicit local input.”
Now, a few states are now forming task forces to determine what should be done about this colossal damage.