A Missouri jury awarded a peach farmer $265 million in damages in a lawsuit over a Monsanto-made weed killer called dicamba. The lawsuit was filed against Monsanto and German chemical giant BASF by Bill and Denise Bader, owners of Bader Farms in Missouri, and sought compensation for years of crop losses they allege resulted from drifting dicamba weed killer. The Bader’s claim was the first dicamba lawsuit to go to trial, claiming, among other things, that Monsanto knew its dicamba weed killer would drift and that the company sold genetically modified (GMO) dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds, knowing that dicamba drift coming from farmers who were planting GMO crops and dousing them with dicamba weed killer could cause chemical damage to neighboring farms that were not planted with GMO seeds. Following a three-week trial, the Missouri jury ordered Monsanto and BASF to pay $15 million in compensatory damages to the Baders, plus $250 million in punitive damages for their reckless actions in marketing dicamba weed killer.
Dicamba is a broad-spectrum herbicide sold under the brand names Xtendimax, Engenia, and Fexapan. The herbicide is manufactured by Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018. Monsanto is also the manufacturer of Roundup (glyphosate), another powerful broad-spectrum herbicide that has been tied to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in individuals exposed to the product. The potential issue with dicamba is that, when applied liberally to large areas of land, the chemical can drift, contaminating neighboring farms and destroying their non-GMO, non-dicamba-resistant crops.
Dicamba has been widely used in the United States for more than 50 years to control weeds, but in the past, farmers generally knew to avoid applying the herbicide over large portions of land due to the tendency for the chemical to drift a significant distance from the intended target area. That changed recently, due to the reduced effectiveness of glyphosate. Glyphosate was introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s and was considered an extremely effective weed killer for decades. In the 1990s, Monsanto introduced GMO crops that were tolerate to glyphosate, but as the herbicide became more widely used, many weed varieties developed a resistance to the chemical.
In order to combat the weed resistance, Monsanto planned to introduce a new dicamba product and launch new, dicamba-resistant GMO seeds that would allow farmers to spray entire fields with the chemical without harming their crops. Monsanto released its new GMO seeds as planned, but the seeds came to market before the company’s new dicamba system had been approved by the EPA. The result was that farmers began buying the new GMO crops and sprayed them liberally with older versions of Monsanto’s dicamba weed killer.
In addition to damaging millions of acres of crops, dicamba drift is also reportedly damaging trees, gardens and wildflowers that bees rely on for food. The Baders for instance, have grown peaches in Missouri’s “Bootheel” region for more than 40 years, and during that time, their 5,000-acre family farm produced on average five to six million pounds of peaches every year, along with apples, corn, soybeans, tomatoes and various berries. Today, the farm is struggling to survive. According to the Baders, who never used dicamba on their crops, their family farm lost more than 30,000 trees due to Monsanto’s dicamba weed killer, traces of which were found on the leaves of their dying peach trees.
In their lawsuit, the Baders allege that Monsanto created dicamba-resistant crops as part of an elaborate scheme to force farmers to buy the company’s GMO seeds in order to prevent crop damage from dicamba drift coming from neighboring farms spraying the herbicide on their GMO crops. The Baders’ claims echo those of other farmers who say Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide has ruined crops covering millions of acres of farmland across the United States. Other similar lawsuits have already been filed against Monsanto on behalf of farmers from Nebraska, Kansas, Mississippi, Illinois and other states. The lawsuits involve similar allegations that Monsanto rushed the dicamba system to market and withheld information about the potential for dicamba to destroy crops.
Monsanto and BASF, which initially developed dicamba in the 1950s, deny any liability for the Baders’ losses, claiming that there are other factors to blame for their dying trees. However, internal Monsanto documents introduced at trial show that the company knew that drift would occur with widespread dicamba use. Not only that, but the company actually anticipated receiving thousands of dicamba drift complaints after introducing its new seed product. According to Steve Smith, director of agriculture at Red Gold Inc, the world’s largest canned tomato processor, and a member of an advisory council to Monsanto on dicamba, the company had been well informed of the risks its dicamba herbicide posed for U.S. farmers. The Baders’ lawsuit against Monsanto is a “bellwhether” trial for similar dicamba crop damage lawsuits that have been filed in courts across the country in recent years, blaming Monsanto for the destruction of millions of acres of farmland nationwide.