Monsanto is asking Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve the use of dicamba, a highly toxic and drift-prone pesticide, for millions of acres of corn.
Monsanto, now a unit of the German pharmaceutical conglomerate Bayer AG, developed dicamba for use on crops that are genetically engineered to survive it. But the pesticide is already the source of consternation among farmers who grow non-dicamba-resistant crops and others who live within proximity of dicamba-ready crops because it is prone to drift, damaging and killing the non-resistant crops and plant life, from commercial farms to backyard vegetable gardens to old, hardwood trees. The pesticide has proven to be so harmful outside its intended scope that some states are taking measures to limit its use.
If the Trump administration’s corporate-friendly EPA honors Monsanto’s request, some 90 million acres of corn could be opened to dicamba use. Monsanto is also asking the EPA to set legally permissible levels of dicamba in food for human consumption, undoubtedly expecting the pesticide will be present in the corn people eat.
“Use of this dangerous, uncontrollable toxin should be banned, not expanded,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “With millions of acres of crops, orchards and natural areas already harmed by this volatile herbicide, Trump’s EPA should reject Monsanto’s self-serving request to dramatically escalate its use.”
Monsanto engineers crops at the DNA level to withstand dicamba. It then sells those genetically modified seeds to farmers, who can douse their fields with tons of the pesticide. However, drift from those applications has already killed or damaged an estimated five million acres of crops, trees, and gardens in just three years.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has received dozens of complaints from farmers in the state who say that dicamba drifting from neighboring fields is harming their crops. Farmers throughout the Southern U.S. are reporting the same problem. Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee have already taken measures to restrict the use of dicamba in efforts to mitigate the damage.
“Even after the EPA increased training for dicamba users, drift from this poison has killed 100-year-old oak trees and withered backyard vegetable patches and entire fields of non-GE crops,” Mr. Donley said. “Carelessly expanding dicamba use will spread its harm across the American heartland.”
Dicamba use also poses a significant threat to imperiled wildlife. For instance, a 2018 Center for Biological Diversity report found that more than 60 million acres of monarch butterfly habitat are projected to be sprayed with dicamba by next year, and another expansion could push the monarch butterfly onto the Endangered Species List. Researchers have found that dicamba degrades monarch habitat in two ways: the pesticide can harm flowering plants that provide nectar for adult butterflies as they travel south for the winter, and it can kill milkweed — the only food monarch caterpillars eat and an essential component of the butterfly’s reproduction.
Monsanto is already in the hot seat for another of its popular weed killers, Roundup. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed alleging the active ingredient in that product, glyphosate, is connected to the development of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Juries in the first two cases to go to trial have found in favor of the plaintiffs. In August, a San Francisco Superior Court jury awarded former area groundskeeper DeWayne Johnson $289 million. Mr. Johnson, 46, claimed he developed terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after spraying Roundup as often as 30 times a day in a four-year span of groundskeeping work. The award was later reduced to $78 million.
Most recently, on March 19, a federal jury in San Francisco found that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup was “a substantial factor” in causing plaintiff Edwin Hardeman, a 70-year-old Santa Rosa man, to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Mr. Hardeman’s case is the first to be tried in federal court, where hundreds like it are pending. Because it’s the first such federal case, its trial is considered a bellwether that could indicate and influence the direction of future trials. Compensatory and punitive damages for Mr. Hardeman will be decided during the next phase of the trial, in which jurors will weigh issues of liability.