Farmers in ten states, including Missouri, have filed a class action lawsuit in a federal court against St. Louis area company Monsanto for damage involving one of the company’s herbicides. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Southeastern Division, on behalf of Steven and Deloris “Dee” Landers and farmers in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

Missouri farm joins class action lawsuit against Monsanto in herbicide controversy (Photo courtesy, Karma Metzgar)

The farmers allege that Monsanto knowingly marketed its Xtend cotton and soybean seeds without any safe herbicide. The suit claims Monsanto knew the only option purchasers would have to protect crops grown from those seeds would be to illegally spray a herbicide called dicamba to protect the crops from weeds.

Spraying dicamba is illegal because it can drift to other farmers’ fields and destroy their crops. The suit alleges Monsanto chose to sell the Xtend seeds knowing that such destructive spraying would be inevitable.

The lawsuit alleges that Steven and Dee Landers’ farms in southeast Missouri’s New Madrid County have been greatly damaged by the illegal herbicide spraying. It was filed by Kansas City law firm Randles & Splittgerber, LLP.

“Monsanto chose to sell these seeds before they could be safely cultivated,” says Bev Randles of Randles & Splittgerber. “Monsanto’s own advertising repeatedly describes its Xtend seeds and its accompanying herbicide as a ‘system’ intended to be used together. But when Monsanto failed to get approval to sell the herbicide, it recklessly chose to go ahead and sell the seeds regardless. The inevitable result was farmers throughout the country used illegal and dangerous herbicides to try to protect the Xtend seeds. That inappropriate use of herbicides, which Monsanto knew would occur and encouraged, decimated hundreds of thousands of acres of crops nationwide.”

The complaint seeks unspecified damages for claims including negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, conspiracy, disgorgement of profits, and punitive damages.

In a statement from Monsanto’s Charla Lord, she says:

“This baseless lawsuit seeks an unprecedented expansion of the law by attempting to impose liability on a company that did not make the product that allegedly caused the damage, did not sell the product that allegedly caused the damage, and, in fact, warned against the very use of the product alleged in the complaint. If any of the damage alleged in the complaint was actually caused by use of the non-Monsanto herbicide product over Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, that use was illegal and performed by third parties over whom Monsanto has no control. This suit is simply an attempt to shift responsibility away from individuals who knowingly and intentionally broke state and federal law and harmed their neighbors in the process. The lawsuit is wholly without merit, and we will defend ourselves accordingly,” says Lord.

“Other herbicides are approved for use with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans and Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton, and both offer many benefits other than dicamba tolerance. Bollgard II XtendFlex offers tolerance to both glyphosate and glufosinate herbicides and includes many of our most advanced cotton varieties,” says Lord. “Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans are tolerant to glyphosate and include our newest, highest yielding soybean varieties. Due to the superior quality of these seed varieties, coupled with the ability to make in-crop applications of approved herbicide products, they offered farmers strong yield potential — even without the ability to make in-crop applications of dicamba herbicide. In fact, Monsanto did not charge growers for the dicamba trait because the herbicide had not been approved for over-the-top use. Moreover, before, during and after farmers purchased their seed, Monsanto took many steps to warn growers, dealers and applicators that dicamba was not approved for in-crop use. Simply put, Monsanto does not condone or encourage the illegal use of any pesticide. We remain confident that most farmers abide by the law, but if some did not, they should bear responsibility in this instance.”

Randles & Splittgerber filed in November 2016 the first lawsuit against Monsanto for damage caused by illegal dicamba spraying. That lawsuit, which is ongoing as a separate action, was filed on behalf of Bader Farms, Missouri’s largest peach producer.

“The more we learned about the extent of the damage, the more concerned we became for the smaller farmers who lack the resources to seek redress against Monsanto individually,” says Randles. “The purpose of this suit is to hold Monsanto liable for its harm to all landowners, regardless of the size of the farms.”

In response to that lawsuit, Monsanto said it sympathizes with the farmers who suffered damage from drift but that it warned growers about the illegal use of dicamba and the fault is with those who used it. The company says the benefits of the seeds to farmers’ yields were too great to wait. The companion dicamba formulation received EPA approval late last year.