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Weeds dying in a soybean field impacted by dicamba spraying. JJ Gouin / iStock / Getty Images

A federal court overturned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) approval of dicamba Wednesday, meaning the controversial herbicide can no longer be sprayed in the U.S.

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Jörg Carstensen / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Carey Gillam

Bayer AG is reneging on negotiated settlements with several U.S. law firms representing thousands of plaintiffs who claim exposure to Monsanto's Roundup herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, sources involved in the litigation said on Friday.

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The CEO of German chemicals giant Bayer, Werner Baumann, speaks during the company's annual news conference in Leverkusen, western Germany, on Feb. 27. INA FASSBENDER / AFP / Getty Images

By Carey Gillam

A California shareholder of Bayer AG on Friday filed a lawsuit against the companies' top executives claiming they breached their duty of "prudence" and "loyalty" to the company and investors by buying Monsanto Co. in 2018, an acquisition the suit claims has "inflicted billions of dollars of damages" on the company.

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The Environmental Protection Agency West pictured in DC. Wally Gobetz / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added its weight to back Bayer AG in its appeal against a federal jury verdict that decided its Roundup weed killer causes cancer, according to Bloomberg.

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An American flag waves in the wind at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, California on May 17 where a trial against Monsanto took place. Alva and Alberta Pilliod, were awarded more than $2 billion in damages in their lawsuit against Monsanto, though the judge in the case lowered the damage award to $87 million. JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images

By Carey Gillam

For the last five years, Chris Stevick has helped his wife Elaine in her battle against a vicious type of cancer that the couple believes was caused by Elaine's repeated use of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide around a California property the couple owned. Now the roles are reversed as Elaine must help Chris face his own cancer.

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Incposterco / Getty Images

When Dr. Paul Winchester, a pediatrician, moved to Indiana from Colorado in 2002, he noticed something disturbing—a high number of birth defects.

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Levi Lyle (right) transitioned his family's farm to organic after his father Trent (right) overcame cancer. Bill Tiedje

Some farmers transition to organic production to earn premium prices paid for organic crops. Others switch to make their farms more sustainable. But for some farmers transitioning to organic is a necessity to save their health—and even their lives.

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Mike Mozart / Flickr

German Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner announced Tuesday she is drafting regulation to stop use of glyphosate in the country's home gardens, parks and sports facilities, Reuters reported.

The minister also plans to set "massive restrictions" for its use in agriculture, with exemptions for areas that are prone to erosion and cannot be worked with heavy machinery.

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Pesticide spray sign on Vesterbrook Farm, which suffered damage from herbicide drift.

Herbicide drift has been a major problem last year damaging millions of acres of crops in the U.S.

An organic farmer in Missouri has seen firsthand how destructive herbicide drift can be as it destroys his crops and threatens his livelihood and farm.

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The Canadian government is banning plastic microbeads in toiletries. Although designed to clean us, they're polluting the environment, putting the health of fish, wildlife and people at risk. Manufacturers and consumers ushered plastic microbeads into the marketplace, but when we learned of their dangers, we moved to phase them out.

Why, then, is it taking so long to phase out the world's most widely used insecticides, neonicotinoids? Scientists have proven they're harming not only the pests they're designed to kill, but also a long list of non-target species, including pollinators we rely on globally for about one-third of food crops.

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The majority of European Union governments voted against a proposal to authorize two new strains of genetically modified (GMO) maize today.

The two varieties of maize, DuPont Pioneer's 1507 and Syngenta's Bt11, kill insects by producing its own pesticide and is also resistant Bayer's glufosinate 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 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.

In his vineyard, Bobby Cox uses hand-for-scale to show how long his grape leaves should actually be. Chemical damage from herbicide drift causes leaves to shrivel and suffer from strapping, interrupting the grape productivity. Photo credit: Bobby Cox

Wineries in Texas are worried that federal approval of two highly volatile and drift-prone herbicides used on neighboring genetically modified (GMO) cotton fields will cause widespread damage to their vineyards, The Texas Tribune details.

Dicamba damage on a grape leaves. Uky.edu

The herbicides in question are Monsanto's dicamba-based XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, which was approved in November by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Dow AgroSciences' 2,4-D-based Enlist Duo, which the EPA also proposed to register for use on GMO cotton seeds. Enlist Duo is already used on GMO corn and soybean crops in 15 states.

"The approval of these formulations will wind up affecting every vineyard up there," explained Paul Bonarrigo, a Hale County vintner who believes that his withering grapevines have been damaged by the illegal spraying of dicamba and 2,4-D on nearby cotton farms. Bonarrigo believes that the state's $2 billion wine industry is in jeopardy.

The debacle is yet another chapter in the expanding issue of herbicide-resistant weeds, or superweeds, that have evolved to resist the herbicide glyphosate, or Roundup. In response to weeds such as pigweed that have infested farms across the U.S., agribusinesses such as Monsanto and Dow have developed ever stronger weedkillers to help farmers.

As noble as that might sound, Monsanto was especially criticized when it decided to sell its dicamba- and glyphosate-resistant soybean and cotton seeds to farmers before securing EPA approval for the herbicide designed to go along with it. Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton was introduced in 2015 and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans was introduced earlier this year.

Without having the proper herbicide, cotton and soy farmers resorted to spraying older versions of dicamba on their crops. But dicamba, as well as the herbicide 2,4-D, are extremely prone to drift, meaning the chemicals can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring fields that cannot withstand the chemical damage. When exposed to the herbicide, leaves on non-target plants are often left cupped and distorted.

Researchers from Ohio State University published a study in September showing that herbicide spray drift from the 2,4-D and dicamba can severely damage wine grape plants near agronomic crops.

Common leaf injury symptoms observed in vines 42 d after being treated with (a) glyphosate, (b) 2,4-D, (c) dicamba, and (d) nontreated controlOhio State University

Although Monsanto said it warned farmers against illegal dicamba spraying, this past summer, dicamba drift caused 10 states to report widespread damage on thousands of acres of non-target crops such as peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, cotton, peas, peanuts, alfalfa and soybeans.

Last month, Missouri's largest peach grower filed a lawsuit against Monsanto over claims that dicamba drift damaged more than 7,000 peach trees on the farm, amounting to $1.5 million in losses. This year, the farm said it lost more than 30,000 trees, with financial losses estimated in the millions.

Regulators assured to The Texas Tribune that the new pesticides are less likely to vaporize and drift, and the risk of damage will lessen if farmers follow safety precautions.

"I don't see this as being any more of an issue than what we have today," Steve Verett, executive vice president of the Plains Cotton Growers, told the publication. "I understand there are other sensitive crops as well. No matter what the product is or the farmer that's spraying, they need to make sure that the product they're spraying stays on their farm."

Kyel Richard, a spokesman for Monsanto, added that the company has conducted training exercises and education efforts to minimize "the opportunity for movement off- site and ensuring those herbicides are staying on target and controlling those weeds on the field that they're intended for."

State wineries, however, are worried that with the EPA's approval, use of dicamba and 2,4-D will expand to include 3.7 million acres of cotton fields.

"I could see it basically killing the [wine] industry, honestly," Garrett Irwin, owner of Cerro Santo vineyard in Lubbock County, countered. "If we get the levels of damage that I'm afraid we'll get, vineyards will not be able to recover or produce grapes at any sustainable level, and we're just going to have to go away."

Irwin also commented that cotton and soy farmers are likely to stick with old dicamba and 2,4-D herbicides because the new formulations are more expensive. Additionally, farmers have to upgrade their equipment with anti-drift nozzles to use the new products.

"I honestly don't think farmers will buy the new formulations when older labels that cost less are available and just as effective as the new labels," he said. "In short, I think farmers will buy generic chemicals without the additives to save money because the cotton won't know the difference."

And if they do buy the new herbicides, there will still be some farmers who "will do nothing to correct for negligence in spraying," Irwin said.

Pheasant Ridge Valley winery owner Bobby Cox told The Texas Tribune that he is worried that cotton farmers will have no choice but to switch to the new seeds system.

Cox said that 2,4-D drift in 2015 caused the amount of sugar in his grapes to be about 5 percent less than ideal.

"It will be catastrophic not only to vineyards but to oak trees, to pecan orchards, to shrubs," Cox said. "If they apply the amount of 2,4-D that they did Roundup and are equally irresponsible with that, it will kill everything green up here. I wish people would understand how important wine growing is for this area, how wonderful of a crop it is on the High Plains. It would be a shame to lose it when we're starting to get recognized."

Not only that, environmental experts worry about dicamba's threat on biodiversity and wonder if pesticide-makers are just creating another cycle of herbicide resistance.

"Once again the EPA is allowing for staggering increases in pesticide use that will undoubtedly harm our nation's most imperiled plants and animals," said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, after the EPA approved the Xtend weedkiller. "Iconic species like endangered whooping cranes are known to visit soybean fields, and now they'd be exposed to this toxic herbicide at levels they've never seen before."

"We can't spray our way out of this problem. We need to get off the pesticide treadmill," he continued. "Pesticide resistant superweeds are a serious threat to our farmers, and piling on more pesticides will just result in superweeds resistant to more pesticides. We can't fight evolution—it's a losing strategy."