A new report calls for federal regulators to continue to blocking use of the herbicide dicamba, until a solution is found to problems where the weed killer drifts onto unprotected fields, causing widespread crop damage.
The Prairie River News Network and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation released the report last week, “Drifting Toward Disaster”, highlighting how dicamba-based herbicides has damaged more than 5 million acres of cultivated and wild landscapes; an area roughly the size of New Jersey.
Dicamba is a synthetic herbicide that is sold under the brand names Xtendimax, Engenia, and Fexapan, which has been used for years by farmers nationwide to control weeds.
While dicamba was traditionally only applied during certain times of the year, use of the herbicide increased dramatically after new seeds were introduced in 2016, which were genetically modified to be tolerant of the weedkiller. This was designed to allow farmers to use dicamba “over-the-top”, as the crops were emerging from the ground. However, problems have been linked to dicamba driving onto neighboring farms, where it has caused wide-spread damage to crops of farmers who decided not to purchase the genetically modified seeds.
In June, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval of dicamba formulations for the weed killers XtendiMax, FeXapan and Engenia, determining that the EPA did not pay enough attention to the risk of dicamba crop damage on neighboring farms.
As a result of the ruling, the EPA issued a final cancellation order, which allowed limited distribution of existing stocks of the three weed killers by commercial applicators until July 31. That deadline has now passed.
However, there is a chance the manufacturers could make some changes that placates the EPA and gets dicamba put back on the market, some say. This latest report calls on the EPA to make resolving the dicamba drift problem a priority in that scenario.
“Despite this court ruling, along with a recent $400 million settlement that compensates farmers for dicambarelated crop damage, the manufacturers are pursuing new registrations for these products for the 2021 growing season,” the report notes.
The report makes a number of recommendations, calling for the EPA to require independent research to prove dicamba formulations will not cause off-target damage to crops. The report also calls for the EPA to conduct a full risk assessment for endangered animal and plant species; reject petitions for deregulation that could increase dicamba use; and to push for sustainable weed management that includes multiple approaches to managing weeds instead of relying solely on herbicides.
Dozens of dicamba drift lawsuits have been filed since August 2017, alleging that Monsanto rushed a system to market that encouraged the increased use of dicamba, while withholding or concealing information from regulatory authorities about the volatility of dicamba-resistant crops.
Farmers and environmental groups say the herbicide drifts onto neighboring crops that are not dicamba tolerant, killing them and forcing farmers to buy the genetically engineered seeds so their crops aren’t killed by dicamba.
In February, a Missouri jury awarded $265 million to a peach farmer in the first dicamba crop damage lawsuit to go to trial. The verdict included $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages, designed to punish Monsanto and BASF for their reckless behavior in marketing the widespread use of the weed killer.
The dicamba lawsuits claimed the high volatility is seen as a feature by the manufacturers, meant to force other farmers to use their expensive products to grow dicamba-tolerant GMO crops if they don’t want to suffer losses when their neighbors spray.