Wednesday, February 28, 2018 by Isabelle Z.
If a farmer wants to grow organic crops, he or she can simply elect not to use pesticides and everything should be fine, right? Unfortunately, the situation is not as straightforward as it seems as pesticide drift is thwarting well-meaning farmers’ efforts and rendering their crops entirely unusable. It’s also destroying traditional crops that were not grown with seeds engineered to resist the pesticides in question. Now, farmers and conservationists have filed a federal lawsuit against Monsanto and the EPA over the approval of the highly drift-prone XtendiMax weed killer.
Last year was the first crop season in which the dicamba-based XtendiMax was used, and it wreaked havoc on farms across the country. When the product is sprayed by farmers on Monsanto’s genetically engineered cotton and soybeans, it forms clouds of vapor that drift effortlessly to nearby crops and wild plants. More than three million acres of soybeans, along with countless fruit and vegetable crops, shrubs, and trees have been harmed by dicamba drift.
Flowering plants growing near crops are not spared its wrath, compromising pollinators as well as hundreds of endangered plant and animal species. Some of the endangered species at risk of extinction due to dicamba drift include grey wolves, whooping cranes, and Indiana bats.
The problem is so bad that agronomists said herbicide drift damage reached unprecedented levels last year, and 2018 is expected to be just as bad. This year, Monsanto expects farmers to plant as many as 40 million acres of its dicamba-resistant soybeans and 6 million acres of dicamba-tolerant cotton.
By allowing the product to be sold, the very agency that is supposed to protect the public interest – the EPA – is instead sitting back and allowing this to occur. In fact, the lawsuit outlines how the EPA likely knew this would occur but caved to pressure from Monsanto to rush its approval without including measures that could help prevent vapor drift. The EPA’s collusion with Monsanto was recently exposed in documents released as part of a high-profile class-action lawsuit over cancer-causing glyphosate in its Roundup weedkiller.
The Center for Biological Diversity’s Senior Scientist, Nathan Donley, said: “The EPA’s foolish approval of dicamba left a deep scar across millions of acres of farms and forests. The ill-advised rush to approve this dangerous drift-prone pesticide reflects just how far the EPA has strayed from its duty to protect Americans and wildlife from harmful toxins.”
The new lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the National Family Farm Coalition, the Center for Food Safety, the Center for Biological Diversify, and the Pesticide Action Network.
The state of Arkansas has already banned the sale and use of the herbicide between April 16 and October 31 after receiving almost 1,000 complaints of dicamba damage last year. Temporary bans and restrictions have also been put in place in states like Missouri and Tennessee. Monsanto unsuccessfully challenged the Arkansas ruling in court.
Dicamba has been on the market for a few decades, but in the past, it was only used as a pre-emergent applied to soil prior to planting crops. Now, however, farmers are increasingly spraying this product on crops after they are planted, and their neighbors are paying the price in many cases.
Unfortunately, farms affected by dicamba drift are not covered by federal crop insurance, which only covers natural disasters like floods and droughts. Therefore, farmers who have seen their entire yields destroyed have few options besides lawsuits. In some cases, the chemical is landing in fields multiple times, adding up to huge financial losses and even bankruptcy in some instances. On one occasion, a farm worker allegedly shot and killed a soybean farmer on an Arkansas country road after an argument about dicamba drift.
See Pesticides.news for more coverage of pesticide drift.
Sources for this article include: