Friday, June 05, 2020

Appeals court bans dicamba-based herbicide sales in U.S. for 6 months; EPA is likely to reauthorize it for next year

A federal appeals court has essentially halted the sale of dicamba-based herbicides in the U.S. for the next six months after ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency did not do its due diligence when reauthorizing the chemical in 2018. That reauthorization expires Dec. 20.

Environmental groups sued EPA in 2018 in an attempt to force the agency to cancel its approval of XtendiMax, a dicamba-based herbicide then produced by Monsanto, which has since been acquired by Bayer AG, Joel Rosenblatt reports for Bloomberg. The ruling applies to dicamba-based herbicides by other companies such as BASF and Corteva Agriscience.

The three-judge panel ruled that the EPA had "failed entirely" to acknowledge the risks of dicamba and therefore violated federal regulations by reauthorizing XtendiMax for two years in October 2018," Rosenblatt reports. The judges wrote in the opinion that the EPA's decision also failed to consider the "enormous social cost to farming communities" where disagreements over dicamba damage have "turned farmer against farmer, and neighbor against neighbor," and cited the 2016 murder of an Arkansas farmer during an argument over dicamba damage.

Dicamba is well-known for vaporizing after application and drifting to nearby fields, where it can damage crops not genetically engineered to resist it. That can unfairly influence farmers to buy dicamba-resistant seeds and pesticides, the judges ruled. "The decision is the latest blow to Bayer in the wake of its $63 billion takeover of Monsanto — a deal that made the German company a leader in agriculture products but also saddled it with a mountain of legal liabilities related to weed killers," Rosenblatt reports. In February, a Missouri peach farmer was awarded $265 million in a lawsuit against Bayer and BASF over dicamba-damaged crops.

State inspection agencies have been inundated with similar complaints for the past three years. Bayer's XtendiMax herbicide is "widely blamed for damaging 3.6 million acres of untreated soybeans in 2017, and more than 1 million acres in 2018," Rosenblatt reports.

"Still, the EPA will probably re-authorize dicamba in a revised form in time for next year -- and the agency could even move up that reauthorization before Dec. 20, when the current clearance was set to expire."

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