There’s a problem in farm country this year: Acres of crops are unexpectedly withering away, but it’s not due to drought or natural blight. Instead, the crisis seems to be related to a new herbicide from Monsanto. Users of the recently released plant-killer didn’t realize it would spread beyond their fields, because — according to a new report — Monsanto skipped over tests that would have highlighted this problem.
The product is a new formulation of the chemical dicamba, which Monsanto sells as XtendiMax with VaporGrip. And Reuters reports today that Monsanto went to significant lengths to avoid submitting XtendiMax to testing that would determine how much drifting on the wind it would do.
University Researchers Barred From Looking
Reuters spoke with several of the independent researchers — at universities in Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois — who had contracts with Monsanto to test pre-release samples of XtendiMax.
These contracts are common, Reuters explains. When a company like Monsanto is developing a new agricultural product, it commissions tests from independent labs and then submits the results and data to regulators. A company will also provide samples to universities for more testing.
University researchers say they asked permission to study the volatility of XtendiMax — that is to say, how likely it is or isn’t to vaporize and drift across fields on the wind — but were denied. In fact, their contracts with Monsanto explicitly forbade doing volatility testing, several researchers said.
One added that being blocked from doing some certain kind of test was extremely unusual. “This is the first time I’m aware of any herbicide ever brought to market for which there were strict guidelines on what you could and could not do” in testing, a scientist from the University of Arkansas told Reuters.
Monsanto told Reuters that the company blocked the testing because they did not feel it was necessary — and because it would hold up their release schedule.
“To get meaningful data takes a long, long time,” a Monsanto executive told Reuters. “This product needed to get into the hands of growers.”
Who Needs Data, Anyway?
XtendiMax with VaporGrip gained regulators’ approval in Sept. 2016, Reuters notes — without the independent volatility testing.
In a statement made last year, the Environmental Protection Agency said that the XtendiMax formulation showed lower volatility potential — i.e. was less likely to blow around in the wind — than previous versions of dicamba-based products had. And what did the EPA base that judgement on? Data provided by Monsanto.
Monsanto has also sought approval from individual states. Arkansas denied the requests, citing insufficient data, while it approved a similar competitor from BASF because that company did include volatility testing.
Although Arkansas did not approve XtendiMax, however, Reuters notes that it is the hardest-hit by dicamba-related crop injuries. Reuters estimates that approximately 850,000 acres of soybean fields have been hit in Arkansas, more than twice as many in the next-hardest hit state (Tennessee).
The Company Wrote Some “Independent” Roundup Studies, Too
The claims about quashing dicamba testing aren’t the only bad news out there for Monsanto this week.
Another wave of court documents has been released showing that Monsanto employees were involved in ghostwriting “independent” review papers claiming that the company’s blockbuster product, the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) is safe, Bloomberg reports.
An earlier wave of court documents that came out in March seemed to show that Monsanto was involved in papers published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology & Pharmacy in 2000.
These new documents, according to Bloomberg, show that Monsanto worked with a consulting firm to publish a review of Roundup’s health effects in a Sept. 2016 issue of the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology.
When the article was published, Monsanto disclosed that it paid the consulting firm to develop it. However, internal emails show that the company’s chief of regulatory science, as well as several other scientists, were “heavily involved in organizing, reviewing, and editing drafts” the outside experts submitted, Bloomberg explains.