German chemical giant Bayer has launched legal action against four Missouri farmers in Missouri, USA, for allegedly spraying older versions of dicamba on its genetically-engineered (GE) soyabeans after the state’s cut-off date for spraying the herbicide, Investigate Midwest reported.

Filed in January in the federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri, Bayer alleged that the farmers were in violation of their user agreements with it and had harmed the company’s reputation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 29 March report said.

Bayer also alleges that the farmers saved seeds from the company’s dicamba-tolerant crops and replanted them, in violation of their user agreement, according to the report.

While investigating the allegations of saving seeds, Bayer claimed it found evidence of the farmers illegally spraying older versions of dicamba – which are legal to buy but should not be used on the crops, the report said.

The lawsuit against the farmers involved charges of patent infringement, breach of contract, tortious interference with business expectancies, and negligence, Investigate Midwest wrote.

Critics have said the lawsuits were an attempt by Bayer to blame the older version of the weedkiller for damage caused by the widespread legal use of dicamba on crops, the report said.

In response to questions from Investigate Midwest, a Bayer spokesman was quoted as saying the lawsuits helped “protect grower access to the technologies”.

“Illegal use threatens law-abiding growers’ access,” the spokesman said. “Deciding to pursue litigation against growers is not easy for us. We exist to serve and support growers. The vast majority of growers abide by the law and honour their contractual agreements. In these cases, there was clear evidence of irresponsible and illegal use.”

The six farmers being sued had denied all claims made by Bayer, Investigate Midwest wrote.

Millions of acres of farmland and natural areas had been harmed by dicamba drifting from sites where it was applied following the introduction of GE dicamba-tolerant crops in 2015, the report said.

Due to the damage, a federal court banned dicamba briefly in 2020, but the EPA re-approved dicamba with additional restrictions a few months later. That approval is currently being challenged, according to the report.