On October 27, the EPA announced the reapproval of herbicide dicamba for use on genetically-engineered dicamba-resistant soybeans and cotton – to the horror of environmental advocates. The decision came just four months after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had revoked the 2018 approvals for the same chemical, due to what the Center for Food Safety has characterized as “well-documented harms and extensive damage to U.S. agriculture.”
“EPA rushed re-approval as a political prop just before the election, sentencing farmers and the environment to another five years of unacceptable damage,” writes George Kimbrell, Legal Director at Center for Food Safety in a press release.
The damage in question is indeed wide-reaching. Dicamba was originally developed in reaction to widespread resistance to glyphosate, another dangerous and carcinogenic weedkiller peddled by Monsanto. And while glyphosate is certainly dangerous, dicamba could be even worse, causing what agronomists believe to be the most extensive drift damage in the history of American agriculture. To wit, in just four years of use, the herbicide has destroyed at least five million acres of soybeans as well as other crops and natural areas, and a lawsuit filed last year alleged that Monsanto violated antitrust laws in releasing the chemical, as its presence in fields forces any neighboring farmers to switch to (Monsanto-produced) resistant GMO seeds or risk losing their entire harvest. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health also found that dicamba could be carcinogenic.
These and other issues led the appeals court to rule that dicamba never should have been approved by the federal government back in June. But BASF and Bayer, the latter of which purchased Monsanto in 2018, argue that new additives can reduce the risk of drift, rendering the reapproval a safe choice.
But experts remain skeptical.
"Given EPA-approved versions of dicamba have already damaged millions of U.S. acres of crops and natural areas, there's no reason to trust that the agency got it right this time," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "At this point, the EPA has shown such callous indifference to the damage dicamba has caused to farmers and wildlife alike, and has been so desperate to appease the pesticide industry, it has zero credibility when it comes to pesticide safety."
“Past is prologue, as Shakespeare said,” he tells Organic Authority. “There is no reason to believe them this time when they have lied/failed the past three times.”
Kimbrell notes that the Center for Food Safety will analyze the new evidence provided by Bayer and BASF, something that no independent state scientists were able to do before the reapproval.
“Otherwise we are left to just take Monsanto’s word for it,” he says. “And they of course have a strong economic incentive to approve it again, no matter the costs to farmers or the environment.”
The announcement isn’t just economic – it’s political. Kimbrell notes that the decision was announced in a Georgia farm field just days before the U.S. Presidential election. Georgia, the New York Times notes, which has long been a “Republican stronghold,” has become this year “an improbable battleground both in the presidential race and in the fight for the control of the Senate.”
“It was a political prop and rushed to be so,” says Kimbrell. “And more generally the decision is of a piece with a suite of other Trump admin decisions basically greenlighting every toxic pesticide it can on its way out the door, no matter the consequences.”
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