U.S. scientists to skip Monsanto summit on controversial weed killer

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Monsanto Co invited dozens of weed scientists to a summit this week to win backing for a controversial herbicide but many have declined, threatening the company’s efforts to convince regulators the product is safe to use.

Monsanto faces a barrage of lawsuits over its dicamba herbicide and risks of tighter restrictions on its use, after the chemical drifted away from where it was sprayed this summer and damaged nearby crops unable to tolerate it.

Arkansas and Missouri suffered the most complaints of U.S. states with damage linked to dicamba. Weed scientists from the two states declined to attend the summit on concerns about Monsanto’s response to the incident.

The company plans to present data at the summit that it says show user error was behind the damage, contrary to academics’ findings that dicamba products can vaporize and move off target under certain conditions in a process known as volatilization.

Missing will be Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri plant sciences professor who has tracked the number of crop acres nationwide that have been hurt by dicamba sprayings. Bradley said he believed Monsanto was not willing to discuss volatilization.

“I think it’s best for me to stay away from that,” he said.

To prevent damage next year, states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are considering new rules for usage, decisions to be based partly on advice from university weed scientists invited to the meeting, whether they attend or not.

Tighter restrictions could hurt sales of the herbicide or of Monsanto soybean seeds engineered to resist the chemical, the company’s biggest ever biotech seed launch.

Arkansas on Thursday moved just one step away from barring sprayings of dicamba next summer, setting the stage for a potential legal showdown with Monsanto.

Time is now of the essence as farmers start to make planting decisions for next spring.

The EPA has held calls with university weed experts to discuss potential regulations.

BASF SE, which also sells a dicamba-based weed killer, has invited scientists to its own meeting on the herbicide. The American Soybean Association, which represents farmers, is convening a meeting, too.

Monsanto’s summit, to be held near the company’s headquarters in St. Louis, will be the largest meeting so far on dicamba, said Scott Partridge, the company’s vice president of global strategy. At least half of about 60 invitees will attend and hear presentations…

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