Monsanto halts launch of U.S. seed treatment

CHICAGO, Ill. (Reuters) — Monsanto Co. has put on hold the launch of a new seed treatment following reports it causes rashes on people.

It is the latest instance of complaints about a company product that was approved by U.S. environmental regulators.

Monsanto halted plans for commercial sales of the product called NemaStrike, which can protect corn, soybeans and cotton from nematodes worms that reduce yields. The company said it conducted three years of field tests across the United States in preparation for the launch and that more than 400 people used it this year as part of a trial.

The delayed launch of what Monsanto calls a blockbuster product is another setback for the company, which is already battling to keep a new formulation of dicamba herbicide on the market in the face of complaints that spray drift damaged millions of acres of crops this summer.

“There have been limited cases of skin irritation, including rashes, that appear to be associated with the handling and application of this seed treatment product,” Brian Naber, U.S. commercial operations lead for Monsanto, said in a letter to customers about NemaStrike.

Some users who suffered problems may not have followed instructions to wear protective equipment, such as gloves, company spokesperson Christi Dixon said.

The company expected Nema-Strike to launch on up to eight million U.S. crop acres in fiscal year 2018, chief executive officer Hugh Grant said on a conference call last month.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency carried out extensive evaluations of the product before approving it for use, according to Monsanto, which has described NemaStrike as “blockbuster technology.”

The agency could not be reached for comment.

“The technology is effective and can be used safely when following label instructions,” Monsanto said.

The EPA last year approved use of Monsanto’s new version of a weed killer using dicamba on crops during the summer growing season.

Problems have also emerged with the herbicide since the agency’s approval. Farmers have complained it evaporates and drifts from where it is applied, causing damage to crops that cannot resist it.

Monsanto, which is being acquired by Bayer AG for $63.5 billion, has said its dicamba herbicide is safe when applied properly and that U.S. farmers failed to follow label instructions.


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