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Trump's EPA Sides With Monsanto, Extends Dicamba​ 2 More Years

At David Wildy's soybean fields in Arkansas, soybean plants planted in April 2017 (left) show signs of being impacted by dicamba. Soybean plants planted later in the season (right) stand taller. The Washington Post / Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Wednesday that it would allow farmers to continue spraying the controversial pesticide dicamba for the next two years. Dicamba is sold by Monsanto to be used on soybean and cotton plants genetically engineered to be resistant to the weedkiller. The problem is that it drifts on the wind, harming non-resistant crops and wild plants. Over the past two years, it damaged around five million acres of crops, trees and gardens, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said.


The approval does come with new restrictions, but experts and activists say they are not enough.

"The Trump EPA's reckless re-approval of this dangerous poison ignores the facts on the ground and damage across millions of acres," CBD senior scientist Nathan Donley said. "Simply adding more use restrictions to an uncontrollable pesticide that already comes with 39 pages of instructions and limitations reflects a broken process. Pesticide regulation has been hijacked by pesticide makers."

New restrictions, according to CBD and NPR, include:

  1. Only certified applicators will be able to spray the pesticide.
  2. For soybeans, spraying will have to end 45 days after planting.
  3. For cotton, spraying will have to end 60 days after planting.
  4. There must be a 57 foot spraying buffer around fields where endangered species may be present.
  5. Spraying will only be allowed during certain times of day.

Iowa State University weed specialist Bob Hartzler wrote a breakdown of the new regulations and how effective he thought they might be.

"Unfortunately, I don't think these new restrictions will have a significant impact on the problems we've seen the past two years," he concluded.

Dicamba is a controversial issue for farmers, NPR reported. Some swear by it, while others feel pressured to buy only Dicamba-tolerant seeds or risk having their crops damaged by spraying nearby.

The whole set-up is a major coup for Monsanto, as NPR explained:

Dicamba has been a huge success for Monsanto, the company that sells both dicamba-tolerant seeds and a version of the herbicide that's specially formulated for use on them. This past year, dicamba-tolerant seeds were planted on some 40 million acres, representing close to half of all soybeans and cotton in the United States. Bayer, the German company that now owns Monsanto, expects that total to grow to 60 million acres in 2019.

But independent soybean sellers Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed have pushed the EPA for further restrictions, arguing that farmers should have a real choice between seeds, one that isn't born out of fear.

It's not just non-Monsanto crops that are at risk. CBD warned that dicamba could further harm already vulnerable wildlife like monarch butterflies. A CBD report found that more than 60 million acres of monarch habitat will be sprayed with dicamba by next year, threatening both the flowering plants needed by the migrating adult butterflies and the milkweed that is the caterpillars' only food source.

"It's going to take far stronger action to curb dicamba's well-documented dangers to non-target plants and wildlife like monarch butterflies," Donley said.

There is currently a lawsuit challenging the EPA's original approval of dicamba, but it has not been decided yet, NPR reported.

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Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.