Farming communities are divided over the use of Monsanto’s newest and high-profile product. Dicamba is a genetically-modified soybean that is resistant to pesticides. The seed is meant to be used in conjunction with Monsanto weed-killers, such as RoundUp, to allow for spraying without damaging the crops. Although this is certainly not the first time the company has released a genetically-modified organism (GMO)-their first release was in the early 1990s-this is certainly the most controversial, due to the fact that 25 million acres have already been planted. Many farmers, mainly from the South and Midwest, have joined a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto claiming that dicamba drifted onto their property and damaged their non-GMO crops.
GMOs that are immune to pesticides have potential unforeseen environmental and health consequences. For example, environmentalists are afraid that creating crops immune to such poisons will increase the amount that has to be used. Monsanto’s RoundUp is facing litigation for being a possible human carcinogen [READ ABOUT IT MORE HERE].
Normal, non-GMOs exposed to dicamba have been affected drastically as well. Michael Kemp, a Missouri farmer, stated that the leaves on his regular soybeans have curled, which is known as cupping. He is unsure as to the extent of the damage this will have on his harvest. Other farmers state that even the trees on their property have changed as a result of being exposed to dicamba, with leaves so deformed that they cannot tell the difference between different species.
Farmers face a catch-22 if they wish to not grow genetically modified crops: While they do not want to buy non-GMO seeds, their crops may be damaged or killed by neighbors using pesticides. They feel like they have to purchase dicamba, regardless of whether they actually want to grow it. Additionally, the crop can now be sprayed later in the year when the weather is more humid. The pesticide is then susceptible to “volatility”, in which it turns into a gaseous form and drifts onto other properties. State and local officials, including the EPA, are not sure of the impact this might have on outside crops, but Kevin Bradley, a professor of agriculture at the University of Missouri, suspects that at 3 million acres have been affected.
Arkansas and Missouri both temporarily banned the sale of the seeds over the summer because of the unknown consequences it could have on farmers and the environment. Monsanto responded to the Arkansas ban specifically, stating that 99% of customers are satisfied with the product, and most issues that arise from spraying the crops can be fixed with proper education and oversight. Local farmers saw this rationale as a way to defect liability from the manufacturer onto the users.
Tensions are very high within the agriculture community. A man was even shot and killed because he disagreed with a farmhand over dicamba drift. As the lawsuit persists, hopefully new regulations will make it so those who do not wish to grow dicamba are not subject to its effects.
Read more about the lawsuit and dicamba in the New York Times article [HERE]