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Economy & Business

EPA Approves Bayer, BASF Dicamba Weedkillers Despite Farmers’ Concerns

Dicamba graphic
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
The EPA approval is a major win for ag giants Bayer and BASF, makers of dicamba-based weedkillers that have been blamed for damaging millions of acres of crops.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is allowing farmers to use controversial weedkillers made by ag giants Bayer and BASF for another five years.

But farmers across the country, including in Missouri’s Bootheel, have complained for years that the dicamba-based herbicides have drifted off target, damaging millions of acres of crops.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the approval on Tuesday, saying it would give farmers who depend on the products to fight difficult-to-kill weeds certainty for next year's growing season.

“After reviewing substantial amounts of new information, conducting scientific assessments based on the best available science and carefully considering input from stakeholders, we have reached a resolution that is good for our farmers and our environment,” he said in a statement.

But the decision comes after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this summer that the EPA has previously failed to consider the risks those weedkillers pose to other farmers' crops.

“It in no way complies with the court order that came down just four months ago vacating the approval of these products,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

His organization and other environmental groups, including the Center for Food Safety, the National Family Farm Coalition and Pesticide Action Network, plan to challenge the decision.

Donley said the EPA move is pitting farmers against each other. “What EPA is doing is saying, the farmers who want to have this, you get what you want. And quite frankly, screw everyone else,” he said.

“The EPA is looking out for the pesticide companies' interests more than they are the people or the country's. And that's really worrisome because they're the last line of defense when it comes to putting in regulations and restrictions that protect the environment and human health.”

Bayer and BASF are celebrating the approval, which comes with a few new rules:

  • The companies must simplify labeling instructions.
  • Products must be mixed with an additional chemical agent to reduce drifting.
  • Farmers must expand the buffer zone around fields where the products are sprayed.
  • Farmers cannot use the product on soybeans after June 30 and cotton after July 30, to protect the growing season of vulnerable crops.

Alex Zenteno, Bayer dicamba product manager, said in a statement the company is committed to enhancing training for proper use of its herbicide.

“Growers have been clear how vitally important this tool is for their weed-management programs,” she said.

BASF executives said in a statement that farmers need its weedkillers more than ever and that without them, farmers would have lower yields.

Bader Farms

The EPA’s decision comes within a year of a major win for a Missouri peach farmer, Bill Bader, who sued Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, and BASF. He alleged the companies’ weedkillers caused extensive damage to his orchards after drifting from neighboring soybean fields.

In February, a federal jury found the companies conspired to damage crops in order to increase profits of dicamba-tolerant seeds and corresponding weed killers. The jury called for punitive damages of $250 million — more than the $200 million suggested by lawyers representing Bader.

The companies are still appealing that decision.

Bev Randles, a lead attorney for Bader, said she was shocked by the EPA’s approval in light of the jury’s decision earlier this year.

“If Monsanto and BASF are telling the truth about these new additives, these new products, then great, but I will believe it when I see it,” she said.

“So long as the spraying is happening, vulnerable crops like the Baders’ peach orchards and other non-DT (dicamba-tolerant), soy and other crops — these crops are going to be damaged,” she said.

Randles represents other farmers who are a part of a multidistrict litigation, including more than 100 farmers across the Midwest who claim they’ve also been financially hurt by dicamba weed killers.

In June, Bayer said it would work to settle those claims for $400 million, but that process is ongoing.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated how much money in punitive damages lawyers for Bill Bader suggested the jury fine Bayer and BASF. The jury landed on $50 million more than suggested.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnsusan

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