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posted by martyb on Monday August 01 2016, @08:27PM   Printer-friendly
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.


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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Osamabobama on Monday August 01 2016, @10:29PM

    by Osamabobama (5842) on Monday August 01 2016, @10:29PM (#382865)

    This is a reason to hate Monsanto: They released a product that encourages use of dicamba before it is approved by the EPA. Included in this reason is that dicamba, itself, is incredibly harmful to non-resistant strains of soybean (and other plants). This punishes farmers who don't buy Monsanto's latest and greatest product.

    Not a reason to hate Monsanto: They develop advanced plant varieties (or, if you like, GMOs) that increase yield, resist pests, and allow better weed control methods.

    Another reason to hate Monsanto: Suing (non-customer) farmers for patent violation when their crops are pollenated by patented crops in the next field.

    Not a reason: Monsanto toys with genetics, thereby upsetting the Natural Order of Things.

    Reason: Restrictive licenses that don't allow farmers to replant their own harvest.

    Bottom line, it's important to hate Monsanto for the right reasons. Don't be sloppy about it.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 01 2016, @11:56PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 01 2016, @11:56PM (#382886)

    encourages use of dicamba before it is approved by the EPA

    Nobody was holding a gun to the farmer's head.

    Monsanto, despite their evilness, did not force people to break the law and ruin other farmers' crops.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @12:15AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @12:15AM (#382889)

      I'd like to see the product label, the instruction sheet, and the MSDS (material safety data sheet) that should have been included.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:01AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:01AM (#382909)

      > Nobody was holding a gun to the farmer's head.
      > Monsanto, despite their evilness, did not force people to break the law and ruin other farmers' crops.

      They just built the gun, loaded it, handed it to the farmer and said "don't pull the trigger on this really awesome gun."
      So... Nothing to see here!

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:11AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:11AM (#382916)

        Not really. I'll try to improve your analogy:

        Monsanto sold bullet-proof glass, then the customer decides to shoot at it in an area where it is illegal to do so. Since the customer has very bad aim, some of the bullets damage a neighbor's property.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:50AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:50AM (#382932)

          > Not really. I'll try to improve your analogy:

          Nope. That's just rewriting it to fit your purposes.
          You started with the gun analogy. I elaborated it in a way you didn't like but that is still completely appropriate.
          Just because the farmer bought the insecticide from some other source doesn't mean monsanto is any less culpable, especially since they gave the farmer every reason to buy the insecticide and intended to sell it to them.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @02:27AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @02:27AM (#382950)

            I'm going to summarize this discussion so far: OP says Monsanto is encouraging illegal activity by selling crops that are resistant to dicamba (among other traits). I say they didn't force anyone to do something illegal. I misinterpret(?) your analogy about being about the crops (I guess it was about encouraging dicamba use) and make a more suitable analogy.

            Clearly, we have differences in opinion about who is responsible when something legal is sold to someone who decides to do something illegal with it. More relevant to this instance - you seem to believe that a third-party, that is not directly involved in the sale of the legal item, has some responsibility for encouraging the illegal use of the legal item because they make a product that is resistant to it.

            Also, you should read TFA because it says that Monsanto intends to sell a formulation of dicamba that does not drift to other farms.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @03:23AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @03:23AM (#382980)

              > Clearly, we have differences in opinion about who is responsible

              One name for it is incitement.

              A name for what you are doing is apologia.

            • (Score: 2) by Osamabobama on Tuesday August 02 2016, @04:41PM

              by Osamabobama (5842) on Tuesday August 02 2016, @04:41PM (#383191)

              I missed a couple of items my first time through this story:

              1. Dicamba is apparently legal for some uses, but not on soybeans.

              2. The new strain of soybean has other features to recommend it besides herbicide resistance, such as increased yield.

              While Monsanto can't reasonably be held liable for this off-label use of its product, I'm sure the farmers with dead soybeans aren't happy with the company.

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              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @04:59PM

                by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @04:59PM (#383200)

                > While Monsanto can't reasonably be held liable for this off-label use of its product,

                Substituting legality for morality is the path to authoritarianism.

                • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @07:26PM

                  by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @07:26PM (#383270)

                  Or if not that, secularism.

          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday August 02 2016, @02:27AM

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday August 02 2016, @02:27AM (#382952) Journal

            Nope. That's just rewriting it to fit your purposes.

            And the same goes for your original analogy.

            Just because the farmer bought the insecticide from some other source doesn't mean monsanto is any less culpable, especially since they gave the farmer every reason to buy the insecticide and intended to sell it to them.

            Actually, yes, that does make Monsanto less culpable.

        • (Score: 1) by anubi on Tuesday August 02 2016, @06:51AM

          by anubi (2828) on Tuesday August 02 2016, @06:51AM (#383014) Journal

          I'll try another analogy...

          A farmer decides to sanitize his field ( boll weevil infestation ) by burning it, intending to plow the ashes back in and try again next year.

          The fire gets out of control and takes out his neighbor's fields.

          Is the farmer who started the fire liable?

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          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @12:11PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @12:11PM (#383082)

            The analogies in this discussion are not very effective so let's just stick to the actual situation:

            Monsanto sold soybean seeds that were legal and resistant to dicamba, glyphosate, as well as higher yielding. Monsanto informs the farmer that they are not allowed to use dicamba on the soybeans.

            Farmer legally buys dicamba from someone else. The farmer then decides to use the dicamba in a way that is illegal and damages a neighbor's crops.

            The farmer is responsible - not whoever legally sold the dicamba and not Monsanto who legally sold seeds.

  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday August 02 2016, @12:52AM

    by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Tuesday August 02 2016, @12:52AM (#382906) Journal

    You posted what I was too lazy to post. Modded the hell up.

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:09AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:09AM (#382914)

    > Not a reason to hate Monsanto: They develop advanced plant varieties (or, if you like, GMOs) that increase yield, resist pests, and allow better weed control methods.

    If that's all it were then sure. But its not and giving them the moral high ground on that is invalid. They have a financial motive to minimize their due diligence on those crops. They are only required to meet the bare minimum legal tests for impact, which is not much more than simple toxicology and even then they lobby to minimize those testing requirements. That's letting the fox guard the henhouse.

    The day monsanto reduces their lobbying budget to zero, opts out of the revolving door for regulators and any other dirty tricks intended to influence GMO safety regulation is the day they can claim trustworthiness in their process for engineering new crop strains. Until then they do not get the benefit of the doubt on the quality of those crops.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by fido_dogstoyevsky on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:50AM

    by fido_dogstoyevsky (131) <{axehandle} {at} {gmail.com}> on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:50AM (#382933)

    Not a ^w^w reason: Monsanto toys with genetics, thereby upsetting the Natural Order of Things.

    FTFY. See rabbits, cane toads, foxes, buffalos, European carp and feral goats, cats, dogs, horses (aka brumbies), pigs, camels and deer in Australia as examples of "upsetting the Natural Order of Things".

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    • (Score: 2) by Osamabobama on Tuesday August 02 2016, @04:34PM

      by Osamabobama (5842) on Tuesday August 02 2016, @04:34PM (#383187)

      I could see where one might assert that glyphosate resistant pigweed (for instance) has upset the Natural Order, but the stereotypical fear of uncontrolled spread of mutant genes has not been realized, nor does it seem likely. And if herbicide resistance is the worst we get from plant research efforts, I'll accept the trade-offs.

      All your examples are invasive species of animals. I'm not sure how those could be extended to include food crops (except that agriculture also uses non-native species, perhaps.)

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      • (Score: 2) by fido_dogstoyevsky on Tuesday August 02 2016, @10:38PM

        by fido_dogstoyevsky (131) <{axehandle} {at} {gmail.com}> on Tuesday August 02 2016, @10:38PM (#383385)

        I could see where one might assert that glyphosate resistant pigweed (for instance) has upset the Natural Order, but the stereotypical fear of uncontrolled spread of mutant genes has not been realized

        ...yet. Or herbicide resistant canola or soybean.

        All your examples are invasive species of animals. I'm not sure how those could be extended to include food crops (except that agriculture also uses non-native species, perhaps.)

        How about boneseed, Patterson's curse, mimosa, prickly pear, boxthorn, gorse, serrated tussock, water hyacinth and bamboo? As invasive flora.

        I'm not saying gengineering should not happen. I am saying that private for profit organistions should not be allowed anywhere near it for now (probably the next half to one and a half centuries).

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