The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces an internal investigation over its controversial decision to approve dicamba, a herbicide used in weed killers like Xtendimax and Engenia, amid concerns that the regulatory agency failed to properly take into consideration the risk dicamba may pose to neighboring farmers and others.
On April 3, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced it was launching an evaluation of the EPA’s decision to approve the Monsanto and BASF weed killer. That announcement came in the form of a Notice of Evaluation (PDF) sent to the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
The decision comes as the companies face mounting number of lawsuits filed by farmers who say dicamba drifts into neighboring fields, killing crops that are not genetically modified to resist the herbicide, which in turn forces farmers to buy dicamba-resistant seeds to stay competitive.
Dicamba is sold under the brand names Xtendimax, Engenia, and Fexapan, involving a synthetic herbicide that has been used for years by farmers nationwide to control weeds. However, it has traditionally only been used during certain times of the year, so that it did not damage crops.
Use of the herbicide increased dramatically after new seeds were introduced in 2016, which were genetically modified to allow farmers to use dicamba “over-the-top”, where the herbicide is applied on crops emerging from the ground.
Since August 2017, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, alleging that the company rushed the system to market and either withheld or concealed information from regulatory authorities about the volatility of dicamba-resistant crops.
“The OIG’s objective is to determine whether EPA policies and procedures were effective in addressing stakeholder risks in the EPA’s Dicamba pesticide registration decisions in 2016 and 2018,” the OIG notice states. “The anticipated benefits of this evaluation include greater assurance that the EPA has adequate controls in place to promote its goal of ensuring pesticides are reviewed for their potential risks to human health and the environment.”
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 lawsuit claims 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.
The case is viewed as a “bellwether” for similar dicambi crop damage lawsuits that have been filed over the last couple years, each raising similar allegations that Monsanto and BASF are to blame for the chemical catastrophe occurring on millions of acres of farmlands across the U.S.