from the unintended-consequences dept.
The early release of a variety of soybeans resistant to the herbicide dicamba has led to criminal spraying and the death of normal soybean crops:
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.
These days Monsanto is shorthand for, as NPR's Dan Charles has put it, "lots of things that some people love to hate": Genetically modified crops, which Monsanto invented. Seed patents, which Monsanto has fought to defend. Herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup, which protesters have sharply criticized for its possible health risks. Big agriculture in general, of which Monsanto was the reviled figurehead.
And soon Monsanto will be no more. Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant and pesticide powerhouse, announced in 2016 it would be buying Monsanto in an all-cash deal for more than $60 billion. Now, as the merger approaches, Bayer has confirmed what many suspected: In the merger, the politically charged name "Monsanto" will be disappearing. The combined company will be known simply as Bayer, while product names will remain the same. The move is not exactly a surprise — it makes sense that Bayer might want to weed out some of the intense negative associations associated with the Monsanto brand. In a way, it's an indication of how successful anti-Monsanto protesters have been in shaping public perception.
In the company's latest statement, Bayer implicitly acknowledged how hostile debates over genetically modified crops and other agricultural products have become. "We aim to deepen our dialogue with society. We will listen to our critics and work together where we find common ground," the chairman of Bayer's board of management, Werner Baumann, said in the statement. "Agriculture is too important to allow ideological differences to bring progress to a standstill. We have to talk to each other. We need to listen to each other. It's the only way to build bridges."
Also at Reuters.
Roundup: Monsanto Ordered to Pay $93M to Small Town for Poisoning Citizens
RoundUp Glyphosate Found to Cause Kidney Failure and Elude Tests
Cancer Hazard vs. Risk - Glyphosate
Use of Dicamba-Resistant Monsanto Crops Leads to Soybean Death
GMO Grass That 'Escaped' Defies Eradication, Divides Grass Seed Industry
Glyphosate Linked to Liver Damage