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EPA Limits Use of Problematic Herbicide Dicamba—But Is That Enough?

By Dan Nosowitz

Dicamba has been in use as a local pesticide for decades, but it's only recently that Monsanto has taken to using it in big, new ways. The past two years have seen the rollout of dicamba-resistant seed for soybean and cotton, as well as a new way to apply it: broad spraying.

But dicamba, it turns out, has a tendency to vaporize and drift with the wind, and it if lands on a farm that hasn't planted Monsanto's dicamba-resistant seed, the pesticide will stunt and kill crops in a very distinctive way, with a telltale cupping and curling of leaves, as seen above. Drift from dicamba has affected millions of acres of crops, prompting multiple states to issue temporary bans on the pesticide. Farmers have been taking sides, either pro-dicamba or anti, and at least one farmer has been killed in a dispute over its use.

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Soybean pod and seed damage caused by dicamba. jwolf7447/Instagram

Scientists Skip Monsanto Dicamba Summit as Controversies Mount Over Damaging Herbicide

Several U.S. weed scientists have turned down an invitation to attend Monsanto's dicamba summit near St. Louis this week, as controversies unfold over the company's new Xtend Crop System, Reuters reported.

Experts have linked the highly volatile and drift-prone herbicide to the damage of 3.1 million acres of crops that are not genetically engineered to resist the powerful chemical. Arkansas, which has logged the most dicamba-related complaints, is a step away from banning the chemical (again) next summer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also consulting with state officials and scientists, including ones in Arkansas, on potential regulations.

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Arkansas Plant Board Backs Dicamba Ban Next Summer in Blow to Monsanto

The Arkansas Plant Board has approved new regulations that prohibit the use of dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31, 2018 after receiving nearly 1,000 complaints of pesticide misuse in the state.

Arkansas, which temporarily banned the highly volatile weedkiller in July, could now face legal action from Monsanto, the developers of dicamba-resistant soybeans or cotton and the corresponding pesticide, aka the Xtend crop system.

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Arkansas Could Become First State to Ban Dicamba

The herbicide dicamba, which has been linked to devastating crop damage around the U.S., could be banned in Arkansas next year.

The Arkansas Dicamba Task Force has recommended a cut-off date for the use of the highly drift-prone and volatile herbicide by next April 15 for the 2018 season.

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Mike Papantonio: Monsanto Is Wreaking Havoc Again

Transcript of the video:

Mike Papantonio: Monsanto is wreaking havoc once again with one of their herbicides, Dicamba. Hundreds of farmers in Arkansas have filed complaints about Dicamba, while states like Missouri were forced to temporarily ban its use, with Tennessee also banning it shortly thereafter. Joining me now is attorney Bev Randles.

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17 States Investigate Dicamba Damage Complaints Spanning 2.5 Million Acres

Complaints of crop damage from the powerful and volatile weedkiller dicamba have increased rapidly around the country.

According to weed scientist and University of Missouri associate professor Kevin Bradley, 17 state governments are investigating more than 1,400 official complaints of dicamba-related injuries this year covering 2.5 million acres.

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Cupping symptoms associated with dicamba damage on a cucumber plant. University of Arkansas.

Monsanto's Dicamba Problems Are Far From Over. Farmers File Another Lawsuit Over Drift Damage

Arkansas farmers filed a class-action lawsuit last week against Monsanto and German chemical company BASF, alleging that the companies' dicamba-based herbicides caused damage to their properties.

The plaintiffs claim that Monsanto and BASF implemented and controlled the dicamba crop system, releasing seed technology without a corresponding, safe and approved herbicide.

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Healthy soy leaves (left) compared to soy leaves with evidence of dicamba exposure (right). Photo credit: Flickr/University of Wisconsin

Farmers in 10 States Sue Monsanto Over Dicamba Devastation

Farmers across 10 states are suing Monsanto, alleging that the agrochemical company sold dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean crops knowing that illegal spraying of the highly volatile and drift-prone herbicide would be inevitable.

Steven W. Landers, et al v. Monsanto Company was filed on Jan. 26 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Southeastern Division. Kansas City law firm Randles & Splittgerber filed on behalf of Steven and Deloris "Dee" Landers and similarly harmed farmers in 10 states—Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

The farmers seek damages for claims including negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, conspiracy, disgorgement of profits and punitive damages.

According to a press release from the law firm, Steven and Dee Landers operate their family owned farms in New Madrid County, Missouri, and have been in business since 1976. The Landers claim that their farms have been greatly damaged by the illegal spraying of dicamba on Monsanto's Roundup Ready Xtend crops, which are genetically engineered to resist dicamba and Roundup (aka glyphosate).

Bev Randles of Randles & Splittgerber told EcoWatch that the Landers' 1,550-acre farm primarily grows soybeans and corn. In 2016, they experienced dicamba damage on more than half of their crops and acreage, resulting in a reduction of their yields in approximately the same percentage, especially with respect to their soybeans.

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

"Monsanto chose to sell these seeds before they could be safely cultivated," said Randles. "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," Randles added.

Monsanto's rollout of its Xtend system has been marked by controversy ever since the company sold its Xtend cotton and soybeans several growing seasons before getting federal approval for the corresponding herbicide.

Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton was introduced in 2015 and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans was introduced in 2016. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only approved the corresponding herbicide, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, in late 2016. The new weedkiller is a combination of dicamba and glyphosate and is meant to address the proliferation of "superweeds" that have grown resistant to glyphosate.

Without having the proper herbicide, cotton and soybean growers were suspected of illegally spraying older versions of dicamba onto their crops and inadvertently damaging nearby non-target crops due to drift.

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Monsanto Ground Breaking Sparks Local Backlash: 120 Jobs Not Worth 'Toxic Company in Your Backyard'

Monsanto has officially broken ground on a $975 million expansion to its Luling plant in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. The facility will manufacture dicamba, a controversial herbicide used in the company's new XtendiMax weedkiller for GMO soybeans and cotton.

Despite the company's promise to bring 120 new full-time jobs to the area, it seems many locals are unhappy with the project.

Angry online comments have flooded the Times-Picayune's coverage of the Feb. 3 groundbreaking. The newspaper's Facebook post of the story has garnered 433 shares and 114 comments so far, with many people criticizing the new plant as well as the company itself.

"120 jobs isn't worth having this toxic company in your backyard...," the top Facebook comment states. The comment was "Liked" 117 times.

"Diacamba [sic] is bad. California just won the right to label Roundup as cancer causing," a newspaper reader commented. "So excited for Cancer Alley to grow."

Indeed, California could become the first state to require Monsanto to label its glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup, as a possible carcinogen following a judge's tentative ruling on Jan. 27. Monsanto opposes the ruling, saying its top-selling product is safe.


But Monsanto's $975 million investment on dicamba represents a major shift from its "bread-and-butter glyphosate herbicide business," as Reuters noted. Glyphosate, the world's most widely applied herbicide, has faced intense backlash ever since the World Health Organization's cancer research arm linked the compound to cancer in March 2015.

The other major problem with glyphosate is the proliferation of "superweeds" that have grown resistant to the herbicide. Monsanto's new XtendiMax weedkiller, a combination of dicamba and glyphosate, is designed to address the problem.

Many health and environmental advocates, however, are worried that the company's new focus on dicamba will just put the world on another pesticide treadmill and create stronger weeds.

"Pesticide resistant superweeds are a serious threat to our farmers, and piling on more pesticides will just result in superweeds resistant to more pesticides," said Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Dicamba was at the center of major controversy in the agricultural space last summer. Monsanto was criticized for selling its dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans to farmers for several growing seasons before gaining federal approval for the pesticide that goes along with it.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only approved the XtendiMax formulation in November. The EPA's delayed approval led to farmers illegally spraying older versions of highly volatile dicamba on their crops last summer, sparking a massive swath of complaints from farmers who saw crop damage from the herbicide drifting onto their fields.

Damage was reported across 10 states on a number of non-target crops such as peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, cotton, peas, peanuts, alfalfa and soybeans, the EPA said.

XtendiMax is said to be less drift-prone than older versions of dicamba. Monsanto has also given farmers specific instructions for its application. The company has high hopes for its new product, projecting that the XtendiMax system will be utilized on about 15 million soybean acres and 3 million cotton acres in 2017.

"Monsanto is committing to a nearly billion dollar Dicamba expansion where a new tool to fight invasive species/pests will be produced," Mike Strain, Louisiana's commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, said after the groundbreaking ceremony last week.

"This herbicide should greatly benefit our Ag producers. The expansion will also bring approximately 1000 construction jobs to St. Charles Parish and about 100 new direct jobs to the area."

The new facility in Luling is expected to be completed in 2019.

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