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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, Interesting) by deimtee on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:54AM

    by deimtee (3272) on Tuesday August 02 2016, @01:54AM (#382935) Journal

    Okay so Monsanto created the problem by selling GMO soybeans. I think a reasonable response is to say that GMO patents no longer apply on any farm affected. All GMO patents. For ever.
    Unlimited perpetual exclusion of that area from all GMO patents. Not just a free licence, nullification.
         

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  • (Score: 2) by Rivenaleem on Tuesday August 02 2016, @08:56AM

    by Rivenaleem (3400) on Tuesday August 02 2016, @08:56AM (#383035)

    (Devil's Advocate)

    Bulletproof vest manufacturers make the world less safe for anyone not wearing bulletproof vests. If nobody wore vests, then people would be more careful about where they went shooting people. As a result of these vests, more innocent bystanders get hit by bullets fired from unapproved guns and do not have sufficient protection against them.

    The bulletproof vest manufacturers should be held accountable for this.

    • (Score: 2) by stormreaver on Tuesday August 02 2016, @11:40AM

      by stormreaver (5101) on Tuesday August 02 2016, @11:40AM (#383062)

      The bulletproof vest manufacturers should be held accountable for this.

      A more appropriate analogy is:

      You get shot while wearing a Monsanto bullet proof vest, and your neighbor dies as a result because the vest is made so that it takes a nearby life as a result of saving the wearer's.

      In that case, yes, Monsanto should be liable.

      • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @12:00PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @12:00PM (#383074)

        The analogies in this discussion are not cutting it so lets just skip them.

        Monsanto sold soybean seeds that were legal and resistant to dicamba, glyphosate, as well as higher yielding. Monsanto even 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: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @05:06PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @05:06PM (#383202)

          > Monsanto sold soybean seeds that were legal and resistant to dicamba, glyphosate, as well as higher yielding.

          Are you really going to just take that at face value? Did any of that other stuff even factor into the sale of the soybeans or is it is just marketing hype that no actual farmers give a shit about because the practical effects are too small to matter? If the NSA said the equivalent about one of their programs would you just believe them? Why does Monsanto get the benefit of the doubt?

          > 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.

          You have cause and effect reversed here. He bought the poison because he had been sold the soybeans. Without the soybeans he would never have bought the poison.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @06:06PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @06:06PM (#383236)

            Are you really going to just take that at face value?

            The resistance to dicamba and glyphosate - yes.
            The higher yield - I don't know, but if I were a farmer then I would research the claim before buying the seeds. My guess is that Monsanto started with higher yield strain before introducing the resistance genes (they certainly wouldn't choose a poor yield strain).
            Monsanto telling the customers that they weren't allowed to use dicamba - yes (it was probably included in the contract).

            marketing hype that no actual farmers give a shit about

            If you were making the case that Monsanto tricked farmers into doing something illegal, then I'd understand why you believed they held some responsibility. I didn't see any evidence for that in TFA and it doesn't seem like you believe it, anyway.

            It seems like you believe the farmers bought the seeds (intending to take advantage of their dicamba resistance - despite being told not to), then bought the dicamba (intending to use it illegally), and finally decided to illegally use the dicamba which caused harm on their neighbor's crops.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @11:55AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @11:55AM (#383071)

    I think monsanto would like your solution.

    Part of their business plan is a network effect where non-gmo farmers are pressured to use gmo in order to "keep up" and I don't mean just keeping up because gmo is more efficient, but also because it sucks up all the tertiary infrastructure. Like research into alternatives, the more gmo users the less demand for research into techniques that do not rely on gmo - like the way widespread gasoline infrastructure killed off early electric car development (in the early days of cars, electrics outsold gasoline cars 10 to 1 [electricauto.org]). So as long as these unlimited gmo farms are a small enough percentage of the total, they would contribute to growing the market of paying gmo farmers and be a net benefit to monsanto.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 03 2016, @02:24PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 03 2016, @02:24PM (#383596)

      Remember, he said "nullification". Those farms could sell seed without any Monsanto contract. "My soybeans are now resistant to glysophate? That's nice, now fuck off because I bought my seed from Tom over there, your shitty patents don't apply to him, and I don't have any contract with you."

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 10 2016, @02:04AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 10 2016, @02:04AM (#386069)

        Aren't these guys actually poison suppliers? Don't they secretly want us to share their seeds, so that we can buy their poisons?