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Farmers in 10 states sue Monsanto over seed damage

Monsanto is expected to keep a large operation in the St. Louis region after the Bayer buyout goes into effect.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Monsanto wrote in an email that the filed law suit is "baseless."

On behalf of several farmers in 10 states, including Missouri and Illinois, a law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto.

The main allegation is that the agriculture company knowingly sold a crop that did not have any approved herbicide to go along with it in 2015 and 2016. As a result, farmers who planted Monsanto’s Xtend cotton and soybean seed used dicamba, an illegal herbicide, to avoid damage to the crops.

Bev Randles, partner at the Randles & Splittgerber law firm, filed the suit on Jan. 26 on behalf of Steven and Deloris "Dee" Landers and other farmers who say their crops were damaged by the "drift-prone" substance. 

The Environmental Protection Agency has deemed using dicamba illegal. Violators may face civil and criminal penalties.

“Monsanto released the seed, knowing for well that it’s against their own policies and certainly industry standards to release a crop without a corresponding herbicide,” Randles said. “And so when they did that it set up a chain of inevitability and unforeseeability where farmers who have purchased the seed would spray an older version of dicamba — an illegal version of dicamba — in order to protect their seed.”

The dicamba herbicide is illegal because it can spread to other fields and destroy planted crops.Randles said there are more than 100 damages that can be tracked back to the dicamba spray in Missouri alone.

Ten states have reported dicamba damage so far: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. More than 200 acres have been affected. While the suit is progressing, Randles said that the number of states involved could still go up. 

“Monsanto’s Xtend seed is still on the market, and even though one of their herbicides was approved in November of 2016 for use this season, that herbicide has never been tested by anyone other than Monsanto scientists,” Randles said

Monsanto wrote in an email that the accusations are “baseless.” The company said that the farmers who used the pesticide should be at fault. The statement says the farmers used the illegal spray and now want to shift responsibility away from themselves to Monsanto.

Here is what Monsanto wrote to St. Louis Public Radio:

“This baseless lawsuit seeks an unprecedented expansion of the law by attempting to impose liability on a company that did not make the product that allegedly caused the damage, did not sell the product that allegedly caused the damage, and, in fact, warned against the very use of the product alleged in the complaint.  If any of the damage alleged in the complaint was actually caused by use of the non-Monsanto herbicide product over Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, that use was illegal and performed by third parties over whom Monsanto has no control.  This suit is simply an attempt to shift responsibility away from individuals who knowingly and intentionally broke state and federal law and harmed their neighbors in the process.  The lawsuit is wholly without merit, and we will defend ourselves accordingly. Other herbicides are approved for use with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans and Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton, and both offer many benefits other than dicamba tolerance.  Bollgard II XtendFlex offers tolerance to both glyphosate and glufosinate herbicides and includes many of our most advanced cotton varieties.  Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans are tolerant to glyphosate and include our newest, highest yielding soybean varieties. Due to the superior quality of these seed varieties, coupled with the ability to make in-crop applications of approved herbicide products, they offered farmers strong yield potential -- even without the ability to make in-crop applications of dicamba herbicide. In fact, Monsanto did not charge growers for the dicamba trait because the herbicide had not been approved for over-the-top use.  Moreover, before, during and after farmers purchased their seed, Monsanto took many steps to warn growers, dealers and applicators that dicamba was not approved for in-crop use.  Simply put, Monsanto does not condone or encourage the illegal use of any pesticide.  We remain confident that most farmers abide by the law, but if some did not, they should bear responsibility in this instance.”

This is not the first lawsuit that Randles & Splittgerber have filed against Monsanto and the Dicamba spraying. In November 2016, Missouri’s largest peach producer, Bader Farms, filed a lawsuit that is ongoing.

Wayne Pratt is the Broadcast Operations Manager and former morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.