Dicamba may face registration fight
EXCERPT: Dicamba continues to be a magnet for class-action lawsuits. These could cover thousands of plaintiffs, according to Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, an agricultural law specialist at Texas A&M University.
The other Monsanto chemical that Bayer investors should watch
By Lydia Mulvany
Bloomberg, 17 August 2018
* Roundup isn’t the only Monsanto product with legal challenges
* Dicamba, pesticide of the future, may face registration fight
Some Bayer AG investors were surprised to learn about the thousands of farmers lining up before U.S. courts to argue that Roundup -- the blockbuster weedkiller the German company recently acquired when it bought Monsanto Co. -- had given them cancer. But Roundup is hardly the only chemical in Monsanto’s portfolio carrying legal risks.
There are also lawsuits aplenty for dicamba, its next best-selling herbicide, which U.S. farmers are spraying on about 50 million acres of soybean and cotton crops this summer to combat weeds that have become resistant to Roundup.
Dicamba has a tendency to vaporize after being sprayed and drift onto neighboring fields, harming crops and other plants that aren’t genetically modified to withstand its effects. More than 1 million soybean acres are claimed to have been damaged this year as of mid-July, and last summer, that number was more than 3 million.
Monsanto and other crop-chemicals companies have come up with formulations that they say will stay put when applied correctly. St. Louis-based Monsanto pins the crop damage on incorrect application by farmers, and that’s going away with increased training. The company has received only a third of the complaints about off-target movement that it did last year, while acres have more than doubled, said Scott Partridge, vice president at Monsanto. Moreover, 12 states last year saw record soybean yields.
“Growers are exercising a choice, and they have chosen to purchase and plant and harvest the highest-yielding, most profitable soybeans that are out there,” Partridge said by phone. The technology “has a historic rate of adoption, and it’s one that’s desperately needed by soybean and cotton growers” to boost productivity.
But some agricultural researchers and farmers say there’s still a problem, and dicamba continues to be a magnet for class-action lawsuits. These could cover thousands of plaintiffs, according to Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, an agricultural law specialist at Texas A&M University.
Meanwhile, rival seed companies are piling on the pressure: Beck’s Hybrids, the fourth-largest U.S. soybean seed retailer, last month wrote to the EPA asking it to place new restrictions on the application of dicamba.
One lawsuit seeks to get dicamba taken off the market altogether. Oral arguments are scheduled for Aug. 29 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Seattle over whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency broke the law in granting the herbicide a two-year registration, which expires in November.
Farmers using dicamba were supposed to avoid drift damage by following instructions written on an “unprecedented” and “byzantine” 16,000-word label, said George Kimbrell, the legal director at the Center for Food Safety, one of four non-profit groups bringing the suit. The EPA may also have violated the Endangered Species Act, Kimbrell said.
“After more than seven years of exhaustive scientific review and evaluation, EPA approved XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology for in-crop use,” Bayer AG said in a statement. “Dicamba-based herbicides have a 50-year history of safe use, when applied according to label directions, and we are confident the government’s exhaustive assessment will prevail.”
Monsanto’s Partridge said that such lawsuits are a “recurrent theme” whenever the company brings new technology to the marketplace.
The EPA said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
“Our goal is to make a decision in time for growers to make informed seed purchase decisions for the next planting season,” the agency said in an emailed statement.
Bayer lost more than 13 billion euros in market value in the week ended Friday as news of Roundup-related lawsuits mount. On Aug. 10, a San Francisco jury awarded $289 million to a groundskeeper who said Roundup, a four-decade old herbicide based on a chemical called glyphosate, gave him cancer. Monsanto points to more than 800 studies indicating that glyphosate is not carcinogenic. Its parent company plans to appeal the verdict.
Bayer also failed to block the state of California from listing Roundup as a known carcinogen.