Toxic Weedkiller Dicamba Drift Damages Crops Across America

Roughly 383,000 acres of soybean crops have been injured by the weed-killer dicamba as of June 2018, according to University of Missouri plant sciences professor, Kevin Bradley.

Dicamba destroys everything it touches, other than the crops that are genetically engineered to withstand it. “Dicamba drift” is a well-known term associated with the herbicide because the chemical can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring non-targeted fields, stunting plants’ growth, and leaving them wrinkled or cupped.

Non-targeted crops and trees have been harmed by dicamba drift for numerous growing seasons, according to Bradley, who has tracked the damage caused by the weed-killer extensively.

In 2017, Monsanto’s (now Bayer) new dicamba-based herbicide, XtendiMax, was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use on the company’s Xtend soybeans and cotton. That growing season, XtendiMax reportedly damaged an estimated 3.6 million acres of off-target crops in more than 2 dozen states.

Many crops were also devastated in 2016 when 10 states reported hundreds of thousands of crop acres damaged by the apparent misuse of older, unapproved versions of dicamba.

The summer of 2018 has fared a bit better, but the damage was still palpable, according to Bradley.

“Many growers in [Missouri] have adopted the Xtend trait so they don’t experience dicamba injury on their soybean crop for a third season in a row. Since the adoption of the Xtend trait is so high in this area, relatively speaking there seem to be fewer soybean fields with injury this year compared to last.

However, just as in the past two seasons, there are still fields of non-Xtend soybean in this area showing injury from one end to the other.

More surprising to me than that has been the extent of the trees that are showing symptoms of growth regulator herbicide injury in that part of the state where the adoption of this trait is so high.”

Compared to 2017, 2018 has seen more cases of off-target movement of the chemical to specialty crops, vegetables, ornamental plants, and trees, said Bradley. [2]

Read: Complaints About Crop Damage Spur Temporary Ban on Dicamba in 2 States

He writes in the report:

“I have personally witnessed this increasing problem of off-target dicamba injury to “other” crops and tree species in the calls I have received, field visits, and “windshield surveys” of Missouri that I have taken the past few weeks, especially when driving around southeast Missouri last week.”

Here are the soybean injury numbers in 2018 (could actually be much more), by acres, in individual states, according to the University of Missouri: [1]

  • Arkansas 100,000
  • Illinois: 150,000
  • Indiana: 5,000
  • Iowa: 1,200
  • Kansas: 100
  • Kentucky: 500
  • Nebraska: 40
  • Missouri: 25,000
  • Mississippi: 100,000
  • Tennessee: 2,000

Sources:

[1] EcoWatch

[2] AgProfessional

PrairieFarmer

Are Farmers Being Manipulated Into Buying GMO Soybean Seeds?

In the past 3 years, Monsanto’s (now Bayer) genetically modified soybean seeds have dominated 60% to 70% of the market. The Xtend soybeans bring in about $1 billion a year for Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in June 2018. But sales of the seeds are being driven by fear, and that fear has birthed an anti-trust lawsuit against the agrochemical giant.

Xtend soybeans have been genetically altered to withstand an herbicide called dicamba. The weed-killer has been around for decades, but it poses a problem for farmers because it typically kills non-gmo soybeans. Farmers who plant Xtend seeds, however, can spray dicamba all over their crops without worrying that their soybeans will be killed in the process.

Dennis Wentworth, a farmer in central Illinois, said:

“One hundred percent of the soybeans that we plant are Xtend soybeans. It controls the weeds. Kills the weeds. That’s the bottom line. It doesn’t affect the crop.”

Many farmers say dicamba has become their go-to herbicide because it kills weeds that other herbicides can’t. They also claim the new seeds produce a bigger yield.

Read: Monsanto is Being Sued by Missouri’s Largest Peach Grower

However, many of these same farmers claim they started planting Xtend soybeans because they had no other option. Take Randy Brazel, for example. Brazel grows soybeans in southeastern Missouri and western Tennessee. In early December 2018, the farmer had already ordered non-GMO soybean seeds, but a phone call from a neighbor made him realize it was Xtend soybeans or nothing.

Brazel said:

“I have a neighbor, a friend. He calls me and says, ‘I am going to have to go dicamba.’”

Dicamba is known to drift far and wide, including to other farmers’ fields, where it can harm non-targeted plants. Brazel knew that if his neighbor decided to spray dicamba, his own crops were at risk.

Last year, as of July 15, 2018, about 1.1 million acres of soybeans had been destroyed by dicamba.

Dicamba drift, as it’s called, has been such a problem that in 2017, officials in Arkansas and Missouri enacted a 120-day ban on the use of the herbicide. A few months later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entered into an agreement with Monsanto and other makers of dicamba products dictating that dicamba would be classified as “restricted use” for the 2018 growing season.

Under the agreement, dicamba could only be sprayed by certified applicators with specific training; spraying would only be permitted when winds were less than 16 kilometers, or just under 10 mph, and spraying would be restricted to certain times of the day. Furthermore, farmers were required to keep detailed records of dicamba use.

Brazel knew the risks and wasn’t willing to lose his soybean crop, so he canceled the non-GMO seeds he had ordered and instead ordered Xtend soybeans.

He said:

“Then I have to get on the phone and call every other neighbor and say, ‘Listen, I did not want to do this. But I am going to be forced to go dicamba.’ Well, then that forces all those neighbors to call their neighbors. And eventually what you have is a monopoly.”

Read: Major Seed Companies Call for Limits on Dicamba

That’s exactly what Bayer and other dicamba manufacturers are banking on, said Rob Robinson, CEO of Rob-See-Co. He has lost a lot of customers who decided to “go dicamba” out of fear that if they didn’t, their soybean crop would be damaged.

Robinson said:

“At least on a local basis, they’re being sold with this idea. It’s actively part of the sales process.”

Seed companies remind farmers that if they plant Xtend seeds, they won’t see any dicamba damage, and they won’t have any uncomfortable discussions with their neighbors, according to Robinson.

He went on:

“Now, how far that goes up the management chain with Monsanto, now Bayer, I can’t tell you, but I know that locally, that’s the message.”

The anti-trust lawsuit, filed by several law firms on behalf of farmers, alleges that Bayer violated anti-trust law by selling dicamba-resistant seeds. The lawsuit claims that the company knew that the risk of dicamba drift could drive competitors out of the market.

Read: Monsanto Offering Cash to Farmers who Use Dicamba Herbicide

Bayer maintains that dicamba is safe when used properly and points out that dicamba drift damage was less severe in 2018. It further claims that farmers are buying Xtend seeds because they offer better weed control and higher yields.

Bayer’s critics say the only reason there was less damage from drifting dicamba last year is because so many farmers have been strong-armed into buying Xtend soybeans.

Whatever the reasons, Bayer is making bank on the fears of American farmers.

Source:

NPR

Europe Tightens Restrictions on CRISPR Gene-Edited Crops

Europe’s highest court ruled July 25 that crops edited with CRISPR technology should face the same tough scrutiny as conventional genetically modified (GM) organisms. [1]

The decision, handed down by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), is a blow to many scientists and other proponents of gene-editing who had hoped that gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 would be exempted from existing European law limiting the planting and sale of GM crops.

Under the ECJ ruling, crops edited with CRISPR and similar technologies are subject to a 2001 directive that was intended for older breeding methods.

Kai Purnhagen, a legal scholar at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands who specializes in European and international law, explained:

“It is an important judgment, and it’s a very rigid judgment. It means for all the new inventions such as CRISPR-Cas9 food, you would need to go through the lengthy approval process of the European Union.”

CRISPR-Cas9 was designed to “snip away” bits of undesirable genetic code and replace them with more desirable ones. The 2001 ECJ directive was intended to apply to the insertion of entire genes, or long stretches of DNA, into organisms. It is supposed to be a very precise technology, but a 2017 study found the gene-editing technique can cause a plethora of unintentional genetic mutations.

Source: WeForum.org

Monsanto’s “Roundup ready” corn is an example of a GMO produced using transgenesis, an ‘older’ breeding method. The corn contains genes from a bacteria resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Roundup ready corn is designed to withstand being doused with glyphosate even as surrounding weeds are killed off. (Though in many cases, glyphosate fails to actually kill the weeds.) [2]

Monsanto received the first CRISPR license to modify crops in 2016.

The law exempts organisms whose genomes were modified using mutagenesis techniques, such as irradiation, which introduce changes to an organism’s DNA but doesn’t add foreign genetic material. [1]

The ECJ’s recent decision was made at the request of the French government which, in 2016, asked the high court to interpret the 2001 directive in light of new and emerging plant-breeding techniques.

Mute Schimpf, a food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, one of the anti-gene-editing groups involved in the court case, said:

“These new ‘GMO 2.0’ genetic engineering techniques must be fully tested before they are let out in the countryside and into our food. We welcome this landmark ruling which defeats the biotech industry’s latest attempt to push unwanted genetically modified products onto our fields and plates.” [2]

Related Read: New Genetically Modified CRISPR-Mushroom Bypasses USDA Regulations

In the United States, the government has ruled that GM crops are no different from those produced via traditional cross-breeding and pose no health or environmental threats.

Sources:

[1] Nature

[2] Smithsonian Magazine

WeForum