Issues Regarding Monsanto’s New Herbicide-Resistant Biotech Soybean- Neighbor’s Crops Damaged

Jacob Bunge reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Farmers in southern U.S. states have long battled weeds and destructive bugs, but this year they face a new threat: their neighbors.

“They say some growers are illegally spraying a powerful herbicide that is damaging hundreds of thousands of crop acres in Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee, a trend that regulators, farmers and academics link to Monsanto Co.’s introduction this year of a new variety of genetically modified soybean.

“Monsanto’s new biotech soybean was designed to resist herbicides, including a powerful chemical called dicamba, long used to kill weeds but prone to drifting into neighboring fields. Monsanto sold farmers the new seeds before it was able to provide an updated version of the herbicide, designed not to drift. That new herbicide is still awaiting regulatory approval.”

The Journal article noted that, “Philip Miller, vice president of global regulatory affairs for Monsanto, said the company ‘took quite a bit of effort’ instructing farmers and pesticide dealers to avoid spraying older versions of dicamba over the new biotech beans, and the vast majority of farmers have complied. Monsanto doesn’t manufacture older versions of dicamba.

The situation illustrates the potential pitfalls of genetically engineered crops and the regulatory system that governs plant genes and related chemical products. Damage to nearby fields could slash those farmers’ crop yields at a time when U.S. farmers already are on pace for their leanest year since 2002.”

Mr. Bunge added that, “A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency said the agency is investigating dicamba misuse and crop damage in the region, and that its findings would ‘inform’ its final decision on approving Monsanto’s new version of the herbicide, expected late summer or early fall of this year.

“In the meantime, farmers already have been spraying the new Monsanto soybeans with older formulations of dicamba sold by other companies, according to researchers and regulators, and farmers like Mike Wallace are paying the price.

“Mr. Wallace, who grows about 5,000 acres of soybeans, cotton and corn near Monette, Ark., noticed puckered leaves on his soybean plants in June, a telltale sign of dicamba damage. He estimated a hit to about 40% of his soybean fields, which aren’t engineered to resist dicamba, and has submitted a complaint to state officials.”

Yesterday’s Journal article also explained that, “While state regulators can fine farmers for illegal spraying, they can’t compensate neighboring farmers for losses, a separate process typically worked out between neighbors on country roads, or through civil lawsuits. And some believe the existing fines are too low: In Arkansas, for instance, the maximum is $1,000.”

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