Should the EPA Revoke Monsanto Weedkiller Approval?

By - October 11, 2018
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Environmental groups argued in federal appellate court last summer that the EPA had failed to analyze the many risks of Bayer AG Monsanto dicamba-based weed killer to neighboring crops before it was approved in 2016. (1).

The environmental organizations filed their federal lawsuit in February 2018, and wanted the federal court to make EPA vacate its previous approval of XtendiMax. They argued that not only does the dicamba-based weed killer damage crops and plants nearby, but also wildlife. It is unclear whether the court has to authority to revoke an approval by EPA.

The US has been increasingly facing a weed killer crisis caused in part by the new types of dicamba-based herbicides. Farmers and weed experts argue these new products have damaged crops because they tend to evaporate and drift away from the application area.

Disturbing Allegations Prompt Review of Studies Used to Approve Roundup at Health Canada

According to the New York Times in 2017 (2). dicamba has damaged at least 3.6 million acres of soybean crops. The newspaper further reported that dicamba damage complaints had been filed by more than 24 states. Most of the complaints relate to soybeans, but drive also has led to crop damage for watermelon, tomatoes, cantaloupe, pumpkins, organic vegetables, as well as residential gardens. Dicamba is used to destroy weeds that are resistant to glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. Monsanto has denied that crop damage is due to XtendiMax. It further argues that dicamba drift occurred because farmers applied older formulations of dicamba illegally, or did not follow directions.

One of the groups, Earthjustice, stated that EPA’s declaration that XtendiMax has no effect on plants and animals was both ‘arbitrary and capricious,’ according to Paul Achitoff, an attorney for the nonprofit organization. He spoke before a three-judge panel at the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle during an August 2018 hearing.

The anti-dicamba arguments come at a vital time for Monsanto and other companies in the agrochemical space that has developed products based upon dicamba. Some of the include Engenia produced by BASF SE, and FeXapan made by DowDuPont Inc. EPA is currently working on a decision on whether to renew the sales license for dicamba, which was to expire on November 8, for the 2019 growing season.

Monsanto argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed.

Sales License Renewal Controversy Simmers

Bayer Chief Executive Werner Baumann stated during a call with the press a few months ago that the company was working with the EPA about getting the sales license renewed. But environmental groups, such as the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America, contend the EPA did not perform its analysis and relied upon Monsanto data and statements for its decision.

In 2016, EPA issued approval for new XtendiMax for use in cotton and soybean fields. It concluded that year that dicamba would not have any effects on animals or their habitat. But US Appeals Court Judge William Fletcher asked tough questions about whether EPA had relied on enough studies to render its decision.

Fletcher noted that it turned out, that EPA was wrong about dicamba effects on crops. He referred to more than 3 million acres or 4% of the soybean crop in the US, that was destroyed by dicamba drift in the planting season last year, a University of Missouri study reported in 2017. (3).

EPA Recommendations On In-Field Buffers Went Unheeded

As it turns out, the EPA in October 2018 did recommend restrictions on dicamba use, but the agency ultimately ignored them, when it allowed the herbicide to be sprayed on soybeans and cotton for two more years.

Emails that were obtained by the newspaper Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request indicates EPA scientists on Oct 5. Asked for a 443-foot in field buffers between areas where the herbicide is sprayed, and where there could be endangered plants and wildlife. (4). But those buffers were set at only 57 feet in new regulations that were announced on Oct. 31.

Critics argue that the new EPA restrictions do not address the volatility of the herbicide, or how it can lift off plants as a gas or vapor hours or days after being applied, and move to crops many miles away.


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