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Despite Clear Evidence of Continuing Dicamba Pesticide Harm, EPA Makes Only Minor Changes to Its Approval

February 16, 2023
Center for Food Safety

WASHINGTON—Earlier today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its latest amendment to the registration of dicamba sprayed over-the-top of genetically engineered crops for the 2023 growing season. Despite admitting that massive dicamba drift damage has increased over recent years despite multiple rounds of past registration amendments, EPA is proposing more of the same: slightly earlier "cutoff dates" after which dicamba cannot be sprayed, and even this only applies to four of the 34 states for which it is registered (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and South Dakota).

George Kimbrell, legal director at Center for Food Safety

"This marks the fifth time in seven years EPA has made changes to dicamba's registration. Yet faced with a mountain of data that its past measures have utterly failed to protect farmers, the environment, and endangered species, EPA once again failed to make meaningful changes. What EPA revised only affects four of 34 states, offers nothing to admitted continued risks to endangered species, and makes a label that already was impossible to follow in real world farming even more impossible to follow. If allowed to stand, EPA's capitulation to pesticide companies will condemn many thousands of farmers to another year of devastating dicamba clouds injuring their crops, endangering their livelihoods, and tearing apart their rural communities. We and our partners will continue do everything we can to stop this harm."

Issue Background

Since EPA first approved dicamba over-the-top sprayings in 2016, millions of acres of farmers' crops have been damaged and sometimes destroyed by dicamba spray droplets drifting off-field during application. This includes dicamba vapor clouds damaging vast fields of crops, dicamba-laced water running off sprayed fields, and dicamba-contaminated rainfall in areas of intensive use. EPA granted the approval despite expert warnings that spraying dicamba in this way – over-the-top of genetically engineered crops, in the heat of summer – would result in tremendous drift damage to crops, wild plants and endangered species. EPA ignored these warnings, and the result has been the worst herbicidal drift damage in the history of American agriculture. Trees throughout the rural Midwest have been damaged, some dying, because of dicamba drift. According to EPA and USDA's own estimates, at least 64,000 and perhaps well over 200,000 distinct dicamba drift damage episodes occur each year.

Center for Food Safety, along with Center for Biological Diversity, successfully challenged EPA's prior approval in a series of litigation that resulted in a 2020 ruling by the Ninth Circuit holding that EPA's prior approval of the over-the-top dicamba spraying was unlawful for six separate reasons, including in part due to EPA's failure to account for the extensive amount of dicamba drift damage, as well as EPA's overreliance on label use restrictions that the Ninth Circuit described as "impossible to follow." The Ninth Circuit vacated EPA's prior approval in June 2020, and four months later, in October 2020, EPA reapproved the same uses by adding more and different label use restrictions.

EPA's latest amendments follow a familiar pattern of the agency repeatedly adding minor use restrictions, but failing to stop the devastating impacts of drift from over-the-top dicamba use. In December 2021, EPA released a report admitting that its October 2020 label use restrictions did not work. EPA found widespread dicamba damage in 29 of 34 states during the 2021 growing season and potential harms to federally protected species. More than one million acres of soybean crops were damaged in 2021 alone due to dicamba sprayings and drift, the EPA found (noting this was an underestimate). EPA also reported at least 63 counties with endangered species concerns experienced damage from dicamba drift. Yet, in December 2021, even after that documented harm, EPA refused to cancel the registration of dicamba, and only made minor amendments in two states, Iowa and Minnesota. Like its December 2021 amendments, EPA's amendments announced earlier today would not have any impact on widespread dicamba drift damage in other states, and do nothing to stop the admitted harm to endangered and threatened species.

Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity, representing the same plaintiffs, challenged the October 2020 registration and the subsequent 2022 amendment. The groups will be amending their litigation to include EPA's latest decision. Summary judgment in the case is scheduled to conclude by early June this year.

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