Master complaints filed in actions over 'drifting' herbicide accused of destroying crops

By John Breslin | Aug 8, 2018

CAPE GIRARDEAU - Two consolidated complaints have been filed in federal court in Missouri accusing two major agri-chemical companies of producing a herbicide that led to collateral damage to millions of acres of crops across the country.

Lawsuits filed in eight states against Monsanto and BASF, which produces elements of the herbicide dicamba, were brought to, and will be heard in, federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri.

Two master complaints were filed Aug. 1, one accusing the companies of producing a genetically modified soy bean resistant to the herbicide dicamba.

But, it is alleged, that the defendants knew dicamba was "highly volatile and prone to drift," and therefore "ruinous to susceptible non-dicamba resistant plants and crops."

The second alleges anti-trust violations under the federal Sherman Act. Farmers, according to the complaint, were forced to switch to the dicamba-resistant crops, and were overcharged by the two firms.

"They created a product that literally destroyed their competition," Don Downing, an attorney with the St. Louis firm of Gray, Ritter & Graham and chair of the executive committee representing the plaintiffs.

Downing told the St. Louis Record, "In terms of a dollar amount (on the damage) there is no good estimate."

But he cited a study by by the University of Missouri, published in July, which found 3.6 million acres of farmland were damaged in 2017, and approximately 1.1 million acres affected this year through July 15.

Monsanto, in public statements, has defended the use of dicamba, arguing that misapplication by farmers was largely responsible for the drift.

Downing said the company cannot reasonably dispute that it is "very volatile" even if a farmer perfectly follows instructions.

In one court filing, according to multiple news reports, Larry Steckel, a weed specialist at the University of Tennessee, said, “It looks good on paper, but when a farmer or applicator is trying to actually execute that over thousands of acres covering several counties, it's almost impossible."

On the anti-trust action, Downing said he is confident that the plaintiffs can prove there were violations of the Sherman Act.

The complaint states, "Monsanto is charging supra-competitive prices because it possesses,and for several years has possessed, dominance and monopoly power in the herbicide-tolerant traits market."

The actions will be heard by Judge Stephen Limbaugh.

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