Global Agriculture

Center for Food Safety Files Legal Brief in Support of Missouri Peach Farmer Devastated by Dicamba Drift

13 May 2021, San Francisco: Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a legal brief in support of Missouri peach farmer Bill Bader, who successfully sued seed and agrichemical giants Monsanto and BASF for devastation of his 1,000-acre peach orchard caused by the companies’ dicamba herbicide-based crop system. The brief defends the February 2020 district court verdict in favor of Bader—in which a jury awarded him $265 million, subsequently reduced to $75 million—against the two firms’ appeal of the decision to the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals. 

“The dicamba-resistant crop system caused unprecedented damage to trees and crops across the country after USDA and EPA’s shoddy approvals that overlooked the risks of drift damage and left those that could not plant dicamba–resistant seeds vulnerable,” said Meredith Stevenson, an attorney at CFS. “The district court here got it right in holding Monsanto and BASF responsible. We stand with Bader Farms and all farmers harmed by the destructive impacts of genetically engineered crop systems.” 

Bader Farms, Missouri’s largest peach producer, has lost tens of thousands of peach trees due to repeated, rampant drift of dicamba herbicides applied by neighboring farmers to dicamba-resistant soybeans and cotton ever since they were introduced by Monsanto (since acquired by Bayer) in 2015. The drift damage continued even after Monsanto and BASF introduced, in 2017, new and supposedly less drift-prone dicamba formulations for use on the resistant crops. 

Internal company documents cited by the district court showed the two companies not only projected that their dicamba crop system would cause thousands of drift damage episodes, but that they exploited the threat of damage to persuade soybean farmers not otherwise interested in Monsanto’s seeds to purchase them anyway, for “protection from your neighbor”—that is, to preemptively avoid and mitigate dicamba drift injury from neighbors’ use of the crop system.  

The district court thus ruled the companies had engaged in a conspiracy to create an “ecological disaster” in order to increase its sales of dicamba-resistant seeds to farmers, and Bader’s dicamba-sensitive peach trees were collateral damage. Nationwide, dicamba drift has caused entirely unprecedented damage to millions of acres of soybeans, vegetables, orchards, and trees.

“Spraying dicamba on crops engineered to withstand its toxic effects is responsible for untold damage to Bader’s peach orchard and thousands of other farmers’ crops,” said Bill Freese, science director at CFS. “Monsanto and BASF must not be allowed to evade liability for the destruction wrought by their dicamba-resistant crop system on Bader Farms.” 

In the filing, CFS presents scientific evidence demonstrating the dicamba crop system is in fact to blame for Bader’s damages and why the dicamba system is not only unnecessary, but is hindering progress towards making American agriculture more sustainable. CFS also highlights the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ June 2020 ruling in favor of CFS and allies, striking down EPA’s dicamba approvals as unlawful. The appeals court ruled that EPA had understated certain risks of dicamba, and entirely failed to acknowledge others, including the “enormous and unprecedented damage” caused by dicamba drift, which triggered strife that “has torn apart the social fabric of many farming communities.”   

CFS and allies are back in court challenging the Trump EPA’s unlawful re-approval of dicamba herbicides in October 2020. Despite the Biden Administration’s acknowledgement that this decision was the result of “political interference” and ignored important risks, it appears committed to allowing continued use of dicamba for at least a year, thus enabling still another year of devastating drift damage.