SHOOTING THE BREEZE

Food fight turns its attention to the Agri-Chem and seed giant Monsanto once again. It’s not another passage in the continuing controversy over their top seller glyphosate this time; although California has ordered that to be labelled carcinogenic.

No, it’s another powerful herbicide produced by Monsanto and a couple of other companies like German leviathan BASF that’s been branded a villain this time. It’s called dicamba. This month two US states, Missouri and Arkansas, have banned dicamba after a mass of complaints about a problem called drift. Nice word drift, it conjures up visions of floating down a river on a dinghy or drifts of wild flowers in a mountain meadow.

Afraid not. Weed-killer drift is a different and altogether more unpleasant experience. It happens when farmers apply herbicide sprays, which then float across adjacent fields on the breeze. And these are fields, which weren’t supposed to be treated at all. The result is neighbouring crops and gardens being destroyed and considerable financial loss.  

Let’s take Monsanto as our example of the core of the problem. Monsanto only sells dicamba to farms already planting Monsanto seeds. These seeds (mostly soy beans) have been genetically modified to survive a soaking with their proprietary dicamba brand Xtend. If it gets onto anyone else’s, unmodified plants then withering and death soon follow.

In Missouri dicamba drift led to130 complaints of drift have been lodged and in Arkansas 600 incidents were logged. In fairness to Monsanto it was other brands of dicamba in the Missouri episodes as their brand Xtend was not licensed there. 

Missouri State scientists tweeted that 45,000 acres of soybeans, as well as commercial tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes, grapes, pumpkins and residential gardens and trees were wiped out. This is what led to the bans in these States.

In response Monsanto say they believe the move is disproportionate and that they’re consulting with their dicamba customers.

spraying dicambaHere at Bohemianmojo we suspect those ‘consultations’ will lead to a finding that end users, the farmers, have ignored product advice and sprayed Xtend when environmental factors, particularly wind strength, weren’t favourable.

We guess this will divert blame away from Monsanto and their Xtend herbicide. The ‘farmers’ who buy this stuff are by and large giant corporate agri-businesses themselves. The days of the small scale, local guy farming in harmony with the landscape and his neighbours are mostly a thing of the past.  These Big-Ag farmers have not yet given their side of the situation publically and may not with the possibility of litigation in the pipeline.

But setting that to one side the fundamental issue is that a giant company can introduce into the environment a singularly bred GM crop, which can only be treated by one lethal herbicide. All plant life around these crops is under a constant and implied threat if one farm operative shoots his weed-killer on the wrong breeze.

To us this poses an important question. Are these giant companies subliminally forcing other farm businesses to fold to the pressure and go down the their route? Are they drifting them into a corner where they just give up to the inevitable and buy only Big-Ag seed and it’s tailor made herbicide? 

We also wonder in what sort of world can it be legal, let alone morally justifiable, to introduce these scorched earth practices into the rural, farming environment?

There’s a lot at stake for Monsanto having invested $1 billion in a dicamba plant in Louisiana with projections that US soybean acres planted with Xtend resistant seeds will grow to 55 million by 2019.

Our standard advice to readers is to ask vendors for the provenance of what you’re eating and don’t buy this stuff if you can help it. There are still some sources of non-GM cereals and beans, untreated by potential toxins, left in the US but not too many.