Halloween Night Tricks: Monsanto's XtendiMax Weed-Killer Re-Approved, Despite Continuing Rampant Drift Damage
Unprecedented Drift of the Toxic Herbicide Put Hundreds of Endangered Species at Risk and Damaged Millions of Acres of Crops in 2017 and 2018
WASHINGTON, D.C.—In a Halloween night trick that goes far beyond scary, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has apparently re-approved XtendiMax weed-killer, Monsanto's controversial version of the herbicide dicamba that is responsible for unprecedented drift injuring millions of acres of cropland and other plants over the past two seasons. If allowed to stand, the decision promises further severe damage to soybeans, fruits, vegetables, trees, and shrubs through December 2020. Two more years of XtendiMax spraying will also continue to threaten hundreds of endangered species. The devastating drift arises from the spraying of XtendiMax and two other dicamba formulations on soybeans and cotton that Monsanto genetically engineered to survive direct application of the toxic herbicide. Despite the unprecedented damage and significant controversy, EPA re-approved the pesticide without any formal public notice and comment on a proposed decision, or apparently any explanatory rationale for it, releasing just a revised website statement.
In January 2017, farmers and conservationists challenged EPA's original decision to approve the herbicide, citing the agency's violations of both federal pesticide law and the Endangered Species Act. The severe harms predicted to farmers and the environment were borne out over the 2017 and 2018 farm seasons. That case was heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in late August 2018, and the Court has not yet issued a decision.
"In order to appease Monsanto, the Trump administration has doubled-down on its broken product," said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety legal director and counsel in the case. "The most recent approval changes nothing, and is even more reason that the Court should set it aside as unlawful."
EPA originally approved XtendiMax and two other dicamba formulations for use on dicamba-resistant crops in late 2016. After a devastating 2017 season, the Agency changed restrictions on their use, but to no avail. This past season agronomists reported over one million acres of dicamba-injured soybeans alone in 14 states, in addition to many reports of dicamba damage to trees and gardens. The additional minor tweaks accompanying the re-approval will likely be just as ineffective.
Farmers whose livelihoods are threatened by dicamba include South Dakota's John Seward, whose vegetable farm has been devastated by drift several times the past two years and Bill Bader of Missouri, whose peach orchard has lost thousands of trees to dicamba damage. Mike Hayes' Tennessee nature resort has experienced wave after wave of dicamba drift the past two years, wiping out the vegetable garden that supplies his restaurant and many of the young trees he's planted.
Not only does EPA's decision promise more devastating losses to farmers and others, it also imperils hundreds of endangered species. Dicamba is an extremely potent killer of flowering plants, including some that are endangered themselves or provide habitat for endangered animals. Pollinators depend on the nectar and pollen of flowering plants, and evidence of depressed honey production in dicamba-ravaged areas suggests dicamba drift may be harming honey bees.
"EPA's disregard of both the law and the welfare of endangered whooping cranes, grey wolves, Indiana bats, and hundreds of other species at risk of extinction is unconscionable," said Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff. "That the EPA would indulge in this kind of recklessness and junk science to appease Monsanto is shocking."
The plaintiff organizations in the litigation are the National Family Farm Coalition, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, and Center for Biological Diversity, represented jointly by legal counsel from Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety.