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Just this year, more than three million acres of crops across the country have been reportedly damaged by a highly volatile and drift-prone herbicide, dicamba. That's on top of the similar, widespread complaints from the year before.
States such as Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois have now received so many reports of dicamba-linked crop damage that officials face four years of backlogs of cases to investigate, driving up costs for lab tests and overtime, Reuters reported.
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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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.
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."
Missouri's largest peach grower is suing Monsanto over claims that dicamba drift caused widespread damage to the farm's peach trees. This is Monsanto's first lawsuit over the illegal spraying of the herbicide on its genetically modified (GMO) cotton and soy that's suspected of causing extensive damage to non-target crops across America's farm belt.
Peach tree damaged by dicamba drift Kade McBroom
The lawsuit, Bader Farms, Inc., et al v. Monsanto Company, Case No. 16DU-CC00111, was filed in Dunklin County, Missouri on Nov. 23. Bill Bader of Bader Farms in Campbell, Missouri claims that more than 7,000 peach trees were damaged by the drift-prone and extremely volatile herbicide in 2015, 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.
The complaint accuses Monsanto of knowingly selling dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds to farmers before securing federal 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. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only
approved the corresponding herbicide, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, last month.
Even though the biotech company warned growers against illegal dicamba use on the crops, many farmers allegedly sprayed older versions of dicamba on the crops anyway to stop weeds. However, while Monsanto's crops are genetically engineered to tolerate sprays of dicamba, other crops cannot. And since dicamba is extremely prone to drift, it can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring fields, crops and native plants. In the fall, 10 states reported horrific damage on thousands of acres of peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, cotton, peas, peanuts, alfalfa and soybeans.
Bader said in August that 400-500 farmers in his region have been affected: "If they don't get compensation 60 percent will be out of business in two years."
"We need to go after Monsanto. These farmers are being hung out to dry," Bader added.
Bader's lawsuit alleges that Monsanto chose to sell its Xtend cotton and soybean seeds knowing that such destructive spraying would be inevitable.
"Monsanto chose to sell these seeds before they could be safely cultivated," Bev Randles of Randles & Splittgerber, the Kansas City, Missouri law firm representing Bader Farms, said in a statement. "We believe it is against Monsanto's own practice, not to mention industry standards, to release a seed without a corresponding herbicide to protect the crop from destruction. But Monsanto chose greed over public safety and made farms in Southeast Missouri and Northeast Arkansas unwilling test labs for their defective seed system."
The law firm expects similar lawsuits to follow. "Our firm continues to be contacted to help farmers who have been harmed by Monsanto's actions," Randles said. "They are folks who have supported Monsanto by purchasing their products for years, only to have been betrayed in the end. We expect more farmers to file suit in the coming weeks."
In response, Monsanto said that the responsibility lies with the growers who illegally applied dicamba.
"Both prior to and throughout the 2016 season, Monsanto took many steps to remind growers, dealers and applicators that dicamba was not approved for in-crop use at the time, and we do not condone the illegal use of any pesticide," the company said in a statement to Brownfield. "While we sympathize with those who have been impacted by farmers who chose to apply dicamba illegally, this lawsuit attempts to shift responsibility away from individuals who knowingly and intentionally broke state and federal law and harmed their neighbors in the process. Responsibility for these actions belongs to those individuals alone. We will defend ourselves accordingly."
Monsanto developed its Xtend system to address "superweeds" that have grown resistant to glyphosate, the main ingredient in the company's former bread-and-butter, Roundup. The firm expects to see 15 million Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean acres and more than 3 million acres of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton in 2017. According to AgWeb, the technology is also licensed to more than 100 additional brands. The company has invested more than $1 billion in a dicamba production facility in Luling, Louisiana, to meet the demand it predicts.
Critics, however, are worried about the herbicide's potential threat to biodiversity, that it forces growers to switch to the Xtend system and that it only creates another round of superweeds. Dicamba-resistant weeds have already been found in Kansas and Nebraska.
"We can't spray our way out of this problem. We need to get off the pesticide treadmill," Dr. Nathan Donley with the Center for Biological Diversity said. "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."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its decisions Friday on whether federal and Hawai'i state laws preempt Hawai'i counties' authority to regulate genetically engineered (GE) crops and pesticide use. Of significance to state and local communities throughout the U.S., the Ninth Circuit ruled that federal law—specifically, the Plant Protection Act—does not prohibit states and counties from passing local laws to regulate and ban commercially-grown GE crops.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally approved over-the-top use of Monsanto's dicamba-based herbicide XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology on dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans that have already been on the market for several growing seasons.
Cucumber plant injured by dicamba driftUniversity of Arkansas
This means that farmers will no longer have to illegally spray their genetically modified (GMO) cotton and soy with older versions of an extremely volatile and drift-prone herbicide. Over the summer, such activities 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. And last month, a dicamba drift dispute between Arkansas farmers resulted in one farmer being shot to death.
Although Monsanto said it warned farmers against illegal dicamba spraying, the company was sharply criticized for selling its latest batch of GMO seeds 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.
"We need to go after Monsanto. These farmers are being hung out to dry," said Bill Bader, owner of Bader Peaches, Missouri's largest peach producer, who estimated a loss of 30,000 trees.
University of Arkansas weed specialist Bob Scott said in an interview with National Public Radio, "This is a unique situation that Monsanto created."
Ryan Rubischko, who heads Monsanto's North America dicamba portfolio, said the company's new XtendiMax weedkiller reduces "volatility potential compared to dicamba formulations currently on the market today."
Monsanto spokesperson Kyel Richard told the St. Louis Dispatch that the product still needs approval from individual states before the product hits the shelves but still expects it to roll out by 2017.
Some growers have already expressed that they have no choice but to switch to the new Xtend system, as the St. Louis Dispatch writes:
"With or without approval of the new herbicide, affected farmers have indicated they will be forced to switch to dicamba-resistant varieties as an insurance policy for future growing seasons. Some also question whether the release of the new, less-volatile variety will put an end to damage from drift, as scofflaw farmers may still be inclined to use off-label varieties if they are a cheaper alternative."
Weed experts are also concerned that the new product has very specific application instructions and are unclear about its chemical makeup. According to DTN:
"University of Illinois weed scientist Aaron Hager told DTN that his biggest concern is that spray applicators understand that herbicide volatility and physical drift are different. 'The need to carefully follow label directions and keep this product physically on-target will be critical and require a lot of attention to detail both during application and clean out of sprayers,' Hager said.
"'It doesn't take much of dicamba to cause damage to sensitive crops and we have a lot of sensitive crops to consider. Having a reduced-volatility formulation does not eliminate physical drift,' he added.
"XtendiMax herbicide is a diglycolamine (DGA) salt—the same salt used in Clarity herbicide. Monsanto has told DTN in past correspondence that it is the VaporGrip additive that prevents the formation of dicamba acid and lowers volatility, based on company tests. However, university weed scientists have complained that they've not been allowed to test the new formulations to compare to older products such as Banvel and Clarity."
Environmentalists also worry about dicamba's threat on biodiversity.
"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. "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."
Another issue is that Monsanto is creating another cycle of herbicide resistance. Monsanto developed its Xtend system to address "superweeds" that have grown resistant to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's former bread-and-butter, Roundup.
"We can't spray our way out of this problem. We need to get off the pesticide treadmill," said Donley. "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."
The Center for Biological Diversity said the new EPA decision will open the door for dicamba use to jump from less than 1 million pounds to more than 25 million annually on these two crops.
Ronnie Citron-Fink of Moms Clean Air Force told EcoWatch she is worried about the health impacts of increased pesticide use.
"We worry about pesticide exposure because children are more susceptible to chemicals through the air they breathe, the food they eat, and the water they drink. This is especially true in communities where homes, schools, and playgrounds are in close proximity to pesticide use," Citron-Fink said.
Monsanto expects to see 15 million Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean acres and more than 3 million acres of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton in 2017. According to AgWeb, the technology is also licensed to more than 100 additional brands. The company has invested more than $1 billion in a dicamba production facility in Luling, Louisiana, to meet the demand it predicts.
The EPA has registered the XtendiMax formula for use on dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton for sale and use in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Earlier this year, Monsanto commercially launched its Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans—a product undoubtedly attractive to soy farmers. The new seeds not only promised higher yields, but it would be a new tool in a soy farmer's arsenal to battle superweeds that have evolved to resist the herbicide glyphosate, aka Roundup. Xtend soybeans are genetically altered to withstand both glyphosate and an existing herbicide called dicamba.
But in reality, the promise of Monsanto's splashy new bean appears to be short-sighted, leaving farmers with the much worse end of the bargain. Here are three reasons why.
1. It's illegal to use dicamba on GMO soy
Even though dicamba has been around for decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet approved dicamba's over-the-top use on genetically engineered soybeans. However, as NPR reported, even though Monsanto has given growers clear instructions not to use the herbicide on the crops, farmers are (illegally) using it anyway. Officials estimate that 200,000 acres in Arkansas, the Missouri Bootheel and Tennessee have been affected.
As NPR described about Arkansas soy growers:
Farmers in this part of the country are struggling to control a weed called Palmer amaranth, also known as pigweed. Many of the weedkillers they've used in the past don't work anymore. Weed expert Bob Scott says they're desperate for new tools. "If we didn't need this so bad, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Scott said.
2. Dicamba has a drift problem
Dicamba is extremely prone to drift, meaning it can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring fields and even on native plants that cannot withstand the pesticide. When exposed to the pesticide, soy leaves that are not dicamba-resistant are left cupped and distorted. Additionally, the EPA has not yet approved Monsanto's pesticide that is supposed to go with their new GMO soy. Monsanto and DuPont's
new herbicide, DuPont FeXapan herbicide plus VaporGrip Technology, has glyphosate and dicamba, and is designed to reduce drift and lower volatility but still awaits approval.
Agronomist Tom Barber of the University of Arkansas wrote in AgFax that he's seen several thousand acres of soy fields in Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas this season already affected by either drift, volatility, temperature inversions or tank contamination from dicamba herbicide applications.
"Many growers I am sure felt that they did not have a choice, either spray dicamba or lose the crop," Barber
wrote. "Based on the number of acres affected, it appears that many fields of cotton and soybean containing this technology have been sprayed with an off-labeled application of dicamba either preemergence or postemergence or likely, both."
Even worse, farmers who do not want to buy Monsanto's new dicamba-resistant beans now might be forced to get them just to project themselves, Barber explained to NPR.
"They're afraid that they're not going to be able to grow what they want to grow. They're afraid that they're going to be forced to go with that technology," he said.
In response to the dicamba problem, Monsanto execs repeated to Delta Farm Press that farmers are warned about illegal spraying. However, the company's product communications lead Kyel Richard also seemed to pass the buck of enforcement to state regulators:
Richard: "The thing I want to underline is we, as a company, aren't an enforcement agency. We're confident that the state officials will be evaluating the complaints, will investigate and will take appropriate actions.
"As a company, we can't speculate on what action government officials will take—especially those who are investigating complaints of misuse. I'm sure they're working diligently and will be taking action."
3. The vicious superweed cycle
Finally, like the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, superweeds are evolving to withstand the very chemicals meant to kill them. Dicamba is no different. University of Arkansas weed expert Jason Norsworthy discovered in greenhouse experiments that pigweed could evolve resistance to the chemical after just three generations, NPR reported.
Donley pointed out that Monsanto's own analysis has indicated that dicamba use on cotton and soy will rise from less than 1 million pounds to more than 25 million pounds used per year. This will only create superweeds that are resistant both to glyphosate—already the world's
most widely applied herbicide—and dicamba.
"The indiscriminate use of glyphosate created these resistant superweeds in the first place and now these companies want farmers to indiscriminately use dicamba," Donley said about Monsanto and DuPont's new dicamba-glyphosate herbicide . "You don't have to be a genius to know how this will end."
Reuters reported that Monsanto has invested more than $1 billion in a dicamba production facility in Luling, Louisiana, to meet the expected demand for its Xtend products as the company steps away from its "bread-and-butter glyphosate herbicide business." Glyphosate has faced major controversy ever since the World Health Organization's International Agency cancer research arm linked the compound to cancer last year.
One of the biggest concerns about the cultivation of genetically modified crops is the rise of superweeds caused by the overuse of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's best-selling Roundup and other pesticides.
So, in an effort to beat back these herbicide-defying weeds, Monsanto and DuPont have agreed to sell an even stronger weed killer to go with their genetically modified seeds.
Glyphosate is the world's most widely applied herbicide and has faced major controversy ever since the World Health Organization's International Agency cancer research arm linked the compound to cancer.
The rival seed and agrichemical companies have signed a multi-year supply agreement for the weed killer dicamba in the U.S. and Canada, Reuters reported. The new product, DuPont FeXapan herbicide plus VaporGrip Technology, will go with Monsanto's new Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans which are genetically altered to resist dicamba and glyphosate.
It's clear that Monsanto has high hopes for its latest project. According to Reuters, the company invested more than $1 billion in a dicamba production facility in Luling, Louisiana, to meet the demand it predicts. Xtend soybeans were planted on 1 million acres in the U.S. this year, but the company expects 15 million acres to be planted with the GMO soybeans next season and 55 million acres by 2019.
Monsanto's bet on dicamba represents a step away from the company's reliance on its "bread-and-butter glyphosate herbicide business," Reuters noted last year. Glyphosate, the world's most widely applied herbicide, has faced major controversy ever since the World Health Organization's International Agency cancer research arm linked the compound to cancer last year. Glyphosate's future in the Europe Union is also uncertain, as a number of countries have expressed fears over the safety of the product.
According to Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, Monsanto's own analysis has indicated that dicamba use on cotton and soy will rise from less than 1 million pounds to more than 25 million pounds used per year. This will only create superweeds that are resistant both to glyphosate and dicamba, Donley told EcoWatch.
"The indiscriminate use of glyphosate created these resistant superweeds in the first place and now these companies want farmers to indiscriminately use dicamba. You don't have to be a genius to know how this will end," Donley said.
"We've been told for so long that genetically engineered crops were going to reduce pesticide use, but it's a complete farce. Now two pesticides are being used where one used to suffice. Five years from now it will be three and so on and so forth."
As for potential ecological impacts or threats to plants or animals, Donley said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has "still not analyzed how dicamba use will affect endangered species so we know absolutely nothing of the potential harms to endangered or threatened species from the use of this herbicide."
He explained that dicamba, more so than most other pesticides, is extremely prone to spray drift, meaning that it likes to move offsite through the atmosphere.
"There is a great potential for damage to nearby crops that are not dicamba resistant, as well as damage to native plants that live in the field margins," Donley said. "These plants provide some of the only habitat and nourishment for many species of animals that live in the zone of agriculture in the Midwest."
The EPA considers dicamba safe for both humans and the environment but admitted "we are concerned about the possibility that the use of dicamba could result in weeds becoming resistant to dicamba."
While dicamba has been around for several decades, the EPA has not yet approved the use of dicamba on genetically engineered cotton and soybeans. However, according to Donley, the agency is expected to give approval soon. The EPA will also need to approve the new herbicide as well.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today approval, "with first-time ever restrictions," of the new herbicide Enlist Duo, manufactured by Dow AgriSciences. The pesticide is approved for use in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Approval is pending in 10 other states with public comments continuing through Nov. 14.
The herbicide, designed to control weeds in fields of soybeans and corn genetically modified to resist it, combines two other herbicides, 2, 4-D and glyphosate. Dow produced the new combo herbicide in response to the growing resistance of weeds aka "superweeds" to commonly used glyphosate herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup.
According to the EPA, its decision is based on "a large body of science and an understanding of the risk of pesticides to human health and the environment."
It goes on to note that "dozens of other countries" have approved the use of the chemicals and says, "EPA scientists used highly conservative and protective assumptions to evaluate human health and ecological risks for the new uses of 2,4-D in Enlist Duo. The assessments confirm that these uses meet the safety standards for pesticide registration and, as approved, will be protective of the public, agricultural workers and non-target species, including endangered species."
The decision says that the "first-time ever" restrictions it is putting in place include a 30-foot no-spray buffer zone, no application allowed when wind speeds are greater than 15 mph and only ground application allowed.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
"To ensure that weeds will not become resistant to 2,4-D and continue increased herbicide use, EPA is imposing a new robust set of requirements on the registrant," says the decision. "These requirements include extensive surveying and reporting to EPA, grower education and remediation plans. The registration will expire in six years, allowing EPA to revisit the issue of resistance. In the future, the agency intends to apply this approach to weed resistance management for all existing and new herbicides used on herbicide tolerant crops."
Environmental and food safety groups were less than impressed by these safety precautions.
The Center for Food Safety condemned the decision, pointing out that 2, 4-D has been linked to immune system cancers, Parkinson's disease, endocrine disruption and reproductive issues, with children at particular risk, and that studies have shown that the new herbicide will lead to more resistant superweeds.
“Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops led us down this futile path of chemical dependency," said the group's executive director Andrew Kimbrell. "Now imagine Roundup on overdrive. Why are our agencies listening to the chemical companies and not the scientists, doctors and lawmakers who know that more chemicals are not the answer to the superweed problem?"
Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, one of 60 members of Congress to sign a letter opposing Enlist Duo's approval, said, "Today, EPA shunned its duties to protect the environment and safeguard public health by bowing to corporate interests instead of relying on science. For years, the scientific community has been sounding the alarm about the increased use of herbicides and the link to a multitude of health problems. It's shocking that EPA thinks it's a good idea to allow the widespread use of a toxic chemical once found in Agent Orange on this nation's farm fields. EPA should be working to reverse the trend of chemicals that poison our food supply, water and soil. It will be just a matter of time before weeds develop a resistance to 2,4-D, and the chemical industry comes up with an even more dangerous and potent product."
"It's very disappointing that EPA is giving the green light to a massive increase in use of 2,4-D, which has been linked to some very serious illnesses, without adequately assessing the impacts on public health," said Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said. “EPA hasn't bothered to consult the expert agencies about the herbicide's effects on endangered plants and animals. Instead it made the absurd assumption it will have no effect at all. This heedless action merely perpetuates the endless cycle of more genetically engineered crops leading to more pesticide use, leading to more of the same."
The Center for Biological Diversity condemned the EPA's failure to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the herbicide's purported safety around endangered species.
“This was an unbelievably foolish decision," said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Enlist Duo will harm dozens of endangered species and is another nail in the coffin for the monarch butterfly. Once again the EPA has turned a blind eye to endangered species, clean water and human health in its apparently endless desire to placate multinational pesticide companies. At a minimum, the agency needs to restrict use of this new chemical cocktail around streams, endangered species habitats and our communities. The monarch butterfly's migration is one of America's most awe-inspiring natural phenomena, and the EPA is willing to throw it all away just to get one more pesticide product on the market—it's shameful."
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Both Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety said they will explore legal recourse.
“EPA has turned its back on those it purports to protect—the American people and our environment," said Kimbrell. “In the wake of our government's abdication of its responsibilities, Center for Food Safety will pursue all available legal options to stop the commercialization of these dangerous crops."
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When Monsanto came up with its Roundup Ready system of genetically engineered seeds in the 1990s, designed for immunity to the herbicide glyphosate, the Big Ag giant seemed like a superhero to farmers looking for an effective way to fight weeds.
Clip from Nathan Shields' animation, 'Monsanto Supersizes Weed Problems.'
But alas, this was a superhero with a fatal flaw. Before they knew what hit them, farmers' weed problems morphed into a national superweed crisis. Superweeds have now spread to more than 60 million acres of U.S. farmland, wreaking environmental and economic havoc along the way.
Monsanto and other Big Ag companies say they can fix this problem, but their solutions look awfully similar to the one that has already failed. Why consider this "let's do it again" approach when there are real solutions available? A Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) briefing paper, The Rise of Superweeds, explains how this crisis developed—and outlines what can be done about it. UCS calls the solution healthy farms, which use practices grounded in the science of agroecology that are "sustainable and cost-effective, and more and more farmers are putting it into practice." These practices make farms healthier, and recent research shows that they work.
To transition to healthy farms, the U.S. needs new policies and farmers need more research. UCS recommends that Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture take the following actions:
- Fund and implement the Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides support for farmers using sustainable weed control methods.
- Institute new regional programs that encourage farmers to address weed problems through sustainable techniques.
- Support organic farmers and those who want to transition to organic farming with research, certification, cost-sharing and marketing programs. (Organic farming serves as a "test kitchen" for integrated weed management practices that can be broadly applied to conventional farm systems.)
- Support multidisciplinary research on integrated weed management strategies and educate farmers in their use.
- Bring together scientists, industry, farmers and public interest groups to formulate plans preventing or containing the development of herbicide-resistant weeds, and make the approval of new herbicide-tolerant crops conditional on the implementation of such plans.
- Fund and carry out long-term research to breed crop varieties and cover crops that compete with and control weeds more effectively.
The grim reality being faced by farmers across the U.S.—and what can be done about it—is depicted in the following animation created by UCS member Nathan Shields of Draw4.Us.
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