(Beyond pesticides, May 27, 2022) In a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) court document filed May 16, the agency flagged potential changes to the labeling it requires for “over the top” (OTT or post-emergence) containing dicamba, a very problematic pesticide. The filing — in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, where the EPA is currently facing litigation over its 2020 dicamba registrations — follows Bayer, Inc.’s proposed March 2022 amendments to the registration of the EPA for its herbicide XtendiMax, which contains dicamba and glyphosate. Beyond Pesticides has covered the dicamba saga for years, including the critical 2021 report from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General citing an abandonment of science and an attack on the agency’s integrity for decisions. from the EPA on dicamba during the Trump years.
Dicamba has been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, birth defects, and kidney and liver damage. It is toxic to birds, fish and other aquatic organisms, and has been known to leach into waterways after application. Dicamba also causes severe damage to non-genetically modified (GM) and non-target plants, damaging the habitat and food sources of various organisms, especially birds and insects.
According progressive farmer, the EPA is currently considering certain restrictions on the use of dicamba after Bayer submitted them to the EPA for the 2023 spray season; Supposedly, these changes imply additional use restrictions in counties that are home to federally listed endangered or threatened species. Besides Bayer, the only other manufacturers of dicamba-based herbicides for OTT applications are Syngenta (with its product Tavium) and BASF (with Engenia); they alerted the EPA that they too “may come up with alternative restrictions on . . . dicamba use before the 2023 growing season.”
In a statement to DTN (the communications company for famous progressive), Bayer said, “Our proposed changes are intended to address concerns expressed by the EPA regarding the protection of endangered species in certain counties across the United States. We are reviewing all actions we can to ensure this important tool remains available to our customers.”
progressive farmer writes, “This filing was prompted by Arizona District Court Judge David C. Bury asking the EPA to clarify its plan to regulate dicamba in 2022 and beyond, in an effort to determine whether he should lift a stay and let the trial continue. The plaintiffs, environmental groups led by the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity, are asking the district court to revoke the EPA’s registration of 2020 dicamba entirely, based on its environmental and health risks. endangered species (see more below).
Why this sudden interest in endangered species coming from the chemical industry? In January 2022, the EPA announced that it would change course and follow the law by methodically reviewing the impacts of pesticides on endangered species before registering a pesticide for use (or re-registering it after the required pesticide review recorded every 15 years). This, along with the court’s request, likely prompted dicamba makers – who are well aware of the impacts of their products on organisms and habitats – to propose such modifications.
If it sounds backwards. . . it is. Why are piecemeal “amendments” being proposed to use dicamba allowances from the companies that manufacture them, rather than the federal agency responsible for regulating pesticide use and protecting human health and the environment? Why does the EPA seem to at least take inspiration from industry? And why wouldn’t the EPA simply assess the (widespread) environmental and health threats posed by dicamba, make that information public, and deregister it on that basis? To almost no one’s surprise, there is a considerable history of industry bias at the EPA, as Beyond Pesticides has explored here, here, here, here, and here.
Prior to 2016, dicamba was used as a “burnt” herbicide before planting or after harvest – to reduce both weed biomass and the number of viable weed seeds in crop fields. One of the reasons for the herbicide’s great destructive potential is that dicamba formulations are notoriously prone to drift – capable of traveling more than a mile from the target site and damaging or killing non-target plants.
The 2019 EPA approval of overhead spray applications of products containing a combination of dicamba and S-metolachlor, and mixtures of dicamba and glyphosate, resulted in very significant environmental damage. Researchers have found that dicamba formulations even become After volatile and prone to drift in hot conditions and when tank mixed with glyphosate. The extensive use of dicamba intentionally or unintentionally also eroded the market for non-GM soybeans, as growers saw GM dicamba seeds as the only way to escape dicamba damage to their farms. (Meanwhile, it turns out that XtendiMax and Engenia, which were ostensibly formulated to be less prone to drift, are not noticeably less volatile than earlier dicamba formulations.)
The destructive environmental impacts of this compound have been considerable. Levels of damage to non-GM crops and trees, organic production fields, orchards and other sites were so severe in some areas that numerous lawsuits followed, and states began to generate restrictions on the use of the compound – scrambling to impose limits on when and how dicamba can be used, changing buffer zones around application sites and, in some cases, banning its use altogether.
A late 2019 report from Arkansas Audubon found widespread impacts on the habitat of birds and other wildlife, saying it “predicts that in a landscape full of GMOs [genetically modified organisms] crops (on which dicamba is typically used), the atmospheric load of volatile dicamba could be sufficient to cause landscape-scale damage to our state natural areas, wildlife management areas, national refuges for wildlife, family farms and the wildlife they support.
Dicamba has been the subject of intense controversy in recent years, particularly in the Midwest and South, where it is widely used on GM soybeans and cotton crops. After extensive use of glyphosate-based herbicides (such as Bayer/Monsanto’s Roundup) on most of America’s three largest staple crops (soybeans, corn, and cotton), resistance to glyphosate-based herbicides in fields of GM crops has become endemic. In response, Bayer/Monsanto developed glyphosate- and dicamba-resistant seeds that would tolerate both compounds. The company brought them to market before any EPA approval of a corresponding dicamba plus glyphosate product that was expected to reduce the dicamba drift problem. As Beyond Pesticides explained in 2021: “Farmers have started using older, unapproved formulations of dicamba, but [even after their] approval, the new formulations proved too drift-prone and problematic to be used without incident.
In 2020, a federal court struck down dicamba’s registration on GM cotton and soybeans, saying the EPA had “significantly underestimated risks that it recognized and did not fully recognize other risks.” related to the registration of Bayer’s XtendiMax and BASF’s Engenia. Despite this decision, a few months later, the EPA renewed the registration of these dicamba compounds. This decision prompted another lawsuit – there were many – this one at the end of 2020 by the same plaintiffs who won the court’s earlier decision to cancel the registration of dicamba (the Center for Biological Diversity [CBD]National Coalition of Family Farms [NFFC]the Center for Food Safety and the Pesticide Action Network North America [PANNA]).
The lawsuit challenged the EPA’s “rushed re-approval of products containing the hazardous and drift-prone pesticide dicamba,” accusing the agency of again failing in its duty “to ensure that the pesticide does not would not cause unreasonable harm to farmers and farming communities, to the environment and to hundreds of endangered species.” The frustration of EPA advocates was evident in their comment.
CBD’s Nathan Donley said at the time: ‘We’re in court again because for four years the EPA has repeatedly asserted that dicamba is safe, and for four years the agency got it wrong, causing millions of acres of damage. The Trump administration continues to insist that it wants to provide “certainty” to farmers, and it certainly has. Farmers in the United States are now certain that the use of dicamba poses an extremely high risk of damaging nearby crops, orchards and forests. Jim Goodman of NFFC said, “The Environmental Protection Agency clearly has no intention of living up to its name or its mission. The agency continues to work on behalf of corporate benefits on the health and well-being of farmers, agricultural workers and their communities. And PANNA’s Kristin Schafer commented, “It’s absurd that we have to go to court to force the EPA to do its job. Millions of hectares of crops have already been damaged by dicamba. This herbicide is harming farmers and already creating tougher weeds, speeding up a dangerous conveyor belt of pesticides.
Their comments go directly to the points that Beyond Pesticides has been emphasizing and that other advocates argue: the EPA is far too tied to the interests of the agrichemical industry; the agency downplays or ignores real risks and threats in its pesticide assessments, behavior that violates its mission; and these EPA failures to act protectively and comprehensively are causing real and on-the-ground damage to people, ecosystems, natural resources, the climate, and all living things.
These amendments proposed by the makers of harmful dicamba products — which the EPA has signaled they may introduce as labeling requirements in the short term — are an example of the EPA’s outlandish and misguided attempts to mitigate risks. and the “downstream” harms of dicamba. Real solutions would abandon such a fragmented and frigid strategy and employ true precautionary and protective approaches, such as the critical transition to organic farming and turf maintenance.
Maddeningly, in these likely new dicamba labeling changes, the EPA appears to be heading for another round of inadequate restrictions that benefit the agrichemical industry, but keep growers, the environment, and the consuming public – and exposed – chained to the toxic treadmill of synthetic and petrochemical pesticides. and the use of fertilizers. It is past time for the EPA to do much, much better to accomplish its mission.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this article are those of Beyond Pesticides.