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Traits in Agriculture » Herbicide Tolerance

Title: States in the US Take Action As Dicamba Damage Grows
Publication date: August 17, 2017
Posting date: August 17, 2017

THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE

 

Dear Friends and Colleagues

States in the US Take Action As Dicamba Damage Grows

Genetically modified (GM) crops resistant to the herbicide dicamba are now being cultivated in the US. However, dicamba drifts easily and damages vulnerable, non-resistant, traditional soybeans, cotton, vegetables, and other crops. Last year, the illegal usage of dicamba was blamed for widespread crop damage across several states. Apparently, renegade farmers had illegally sprayed older, highly volatile versions of the chemical on Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton, which the company had released prior to regulatory approval of the new herbicide formulations. Farmers have fought with neighbors over lost crops and brought lawsuits against dicamba producers.

Recently, 242 cases of alleged dicamba misuse in Arkansas and 60 in Missouri have arisen (Item 1), leading Arkansas to ban the herbicide this July (Item 2). Missouri, which initially halted dicamba spraying, has imposed tight restrictions on when and in what weather spraying can be done. Tennessee has also imposed restrictions to limit potential pesticide drift and banning the use of older dicamba formulations. Kansas is investigating complaints.

New data released this week by scientists tracking reported dicamba damage show the controversial weedkiller’s suspected footprint widening significantly (Item 3).The data show complaints about the herbicide’s off-target movement have now been made in 21 states, in a broad area stretching from North Dakota to Georgia. Through surveys of state departments of agriculture, the findings identify at least 2,242 official investigations into dicamba damage nationwide, as of 10 August 2017.

Farmers are struggling to combat weeds like pigweed that have developed resistance to other herbicides like glyphosate, linked to the first generation of glyphosate-resistant GM crops. This year, newly approved GM dicamba products from Monsanto and BASF aimed to offer farmers less-volatile alternatives to use with resistant seed varieties. But the new complaints coming in from Missouri are related to the new products, namely, Monsanto’s XtendiMax, and BASF's Engenia. The former has not been approved in Arkansas. Dicamba is key to Monsanto's biggest-ever biotech seed launch of last year. Its dicamba-resistant Xtend line of soybeans and cotton replaces earlier products that were only resistant to glyphosate.

As the crisis intensifies, new details provided to Reuters by independent researchers and regulators, and previously unreported testimony by a company employee, demonstrate the approach Monsanto used to prevent key independent testing of its product (Item 4). Monsanto denied requests by university researchers to study its XtendiMax for volatility (a measure of its tendency to vaporize and drift across fields). The EPA approved the product without the added testing in September 2016.

With best wishes,

Third World Network
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____________________________________________________________________________

Item 1

DICAMBA DAMAGE IS BACK — AND POSSIBLY WORSE THAN BEFORE

Bryce Gray
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/dicamba-damage-is-back-and-possibly-worse-than-before/article_2e33ec05-ae98-5468-92f8-bccf6bcd7698.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=user-share
25 June 2017

Some thought this year would be different.

Last year, when illegal usage of the drift-prone herbicide dicamba was blamed for widespread crop damage across southeastern Missouri and other states — and is even suspected of triggering deadly feuds between farmers — many expressed hope that the problem would diminish in future growing seasons, with proper forms of the herbicide gaining approval for use on crops engineered to tolerate the spray.

But that may have been wishful thinking, if the recent explosion of 242 cases of alleged dicamba misuse in Arkansas is any indication. Amid the snowballing number of complaints in the state, the Arkansas State Plant Board proposed an emergency ban of the chemical for in-crop use Friday.

Leading the way with 81 complaints is Mississippi County, Ark., which borders Missouri’s Bootheel, where most of the region’s cases were concentrated last year. Those in the Bootheel, meanwhile, are waiting to see if a similar crisis unfolds once again. The area’s growing season lags a bit behind that in Arkansas, and it wasn’t until late last June that local dicamba complaints began to surface.

But Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri plant sciences professor who investigated much of last year’s damage, says he’s been fielding complaints of crop injury over the past couple of weeks, while the Missouri Department of Agriculture has received 60 reports of misuse so far, statewide. Last year, more than 120 cases of suspected drift were reported to Missouri officials.

Bradley says continued damage from the herbicide this year would be a predictable consequence of so many farmers converting to dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton — many of whom did so to avoid the damage suffered last year.

“It’s concerning but not a surprise,” Bradley said. “We knew that the acreage that gets sprayed with that dicamba product would be dramatically more than it was last year.”

The volatile chemical is sensitive to vaporizing and drifting into nearby fields where nonresistant crop varieties are vulnerable to injury. Last year, much of the damage was believed to have been caused by renegade farmers who illegally sprayed older, highly volatile versions of the chemical on Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton, which the company released prior to regulatory approval of the corresponding herbicide.

Though growers were warned not to apply “off-label” or unauthorized forms of dicamba, many appeared to do so to combat weeds that have developed resistance to other herbicides like glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

This year, newly approved dicamba products from Monsanto and BASF aimed to offer farmers less-volatile alternatives to use with resistant seed varieties. But even those could be triggering at least some of the complaints.

“All the calls I’ve had this year, these are people that are spraying the newly approved products. They’re doing the best they can do,” Bradley said.

He said those calls stem from users of both Monsanto’s product, XtendiMax, and Engenia, the BASF alternative.

Tom Burnham, an Arkansas grower whose farmland stretches across Mississippi County and into Missouri’s Dunklin and Pemiscot counties, estimates that all of his 7,500 acres of LibertyLink soybeans have symptoms of dicamba damage. He calls off-target movement of dicamba the most serious issue he has confronted in more than three decades of farming, and thinks the problem has arisen despite correct application methods by other growers nearby.

“Last year I didn’t have any issues. This year it’s an epidemic,” Burnham said. “These weren’t what I call cowboys using the old versions of dicamba. These were people using the right stuff the right way.”

In Arkansas, only Engenia was approved for use this growing season, after the state declined to authorize Monsanto’s formulation.

“On multiple occasions, Monsanto did not provide a detailed enough explanation about their new product for the Arkansas State Plant Board to approve it for use,” the Arkansas Agriculture Department said following their January decision. Monsanto denied the statement, noting that sufficient data was provided for approval in 33 other states.

University of Arkansas scientists have yet to independently test the volatility of XtendiMax, according to Jason Norsworthy, a professor of weed science at the school. He said that the university has looked at Engenia, though, which BASF reports has been applied to more than 700,000 acres in Arkansas this year.

“It does have reduced volatility,” Norsworthy said. “(But) we can’t say that it’s a nonvolatile form of dicamba.”

The state is investigating the cases of alleged misuse, which can also result from physical drift or other factors related to temperature and conditions at the time of application. BASF, which criticized moves to ban Engenia use this season, reiterated claims that the product is up to 90 percent less volatile than other forms of dicamba, suggesting that instances of drift caused by factors such as wind or improper application techniques can be mistaken for volatility.

Arguing against efforts to ban dicamba in Arkansas, company representatives noted the “vast majority of those using Engenia, here in Arkansas and across the country, are experiencing positive results with no off-target movement.”

Farmers such as Burnham, though, worry the rising complaint totals signal that new dicamba products can’t be used safely, especially on such a large scale.

“I don’t feel that this technology can be successfully used. Our heat, humidity and topography are highly conducive to off-target movement,” Burnham wrote in a letter submitted to Arkansas’ plant board last week.

He argued that rampant drift unfairly influences the choices of non-GMO farmers, estimating that half of the region’s acreage planted in dicamba-resistant crops this year was done by farmers solely aiming to protect themselves from damage. “I feel that the need to plant a technology to protect your crop from off-target movement is tantamount to extortion,” Burnham wrote.

But, even if adopted out of necessity, some farmers converting to the crops expressed relief knowing that episodes of dicamba damage were behind them. And they’re in good company, with Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, saying that the technology is being adopted in record numbers.

“In the first year the product has been in the marketplace, we’ll be somewhere between 20 and 25 million acres which will make it one of the largest launches we’ve ever had,” Fraley said.

Though Monsanto’s XtendiMax products were already barred from Arkansas and not affected by the state’s proposed ban, Fraley echoed BASF’s argument that the technology is needed by farmers to fight weeds and boost yields.

“The real loser in the decision is the Arkansas farmer,” Fraley said. “In the middle of the cropping season, they’re being disadvantaged.”

Editor's note: The Arkansas State Plant Board voted Friday to propose an emergency ban on in-crop dicamba use. The recommendation still must be reviewed by the Arkansas governor and a state legislative council before it is enacted. An earlier version of this story was unclear about the status of the ban.


Item 2

TENNESSEE RESTRICTS USE OF MONSANTO PESTICIDE AS PROBLEMS SPREAD

Karl Plume
Reuters
http://mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN19Y2KE
13 July 2017

Tennessee on Thursday imposed restrictions on the use of dicamba, a flagship pesticide for Monsanto Co, becoming the fourth state to take action as problems spread over damage the weed killer causes to crops not genetically modified to withstand it.

Dicamba is sprayed by farmers on crops genetically modified to resist it but it has drifted, damaging vulnerable soybeans, cotton and other crops across the southern United States. Farmers have fought with neighbors over lost crops and brought lawsuits against dicamba producers.

Arkansas banned its use last week and Missouri, which initially halted dicamba spraying, has joined Tennessee with tight restrictions on when and in what weather spraying can be done. Kansas is investigating complaints.

"We've had damage across just about every acre of soybeans we farm in southeast Missouri," said Hunter Raffety, a farmer in Wyatt, Missouri. "In our small town, the azaleas, the ornamentals, people have lost their vegetable gardens. It's a big problem."

He suspects between 3,000 and 4,000 acres of soybeans on the 6,000 acres he and his family farm have sustained damage, evidenced by the leaves of plants constricting into cup-like shapes.

Monsanto, which said it has spent years working to make dicamba stickier and limit drift when it is sprayed, is campaigning to overturn the bans. It blames early-adoption headaches similar to wind drift and cross-contaminated farm equipment problems the company faced when it launched its popular Roundup Ready glyphosate-resistant crops two decades ago.

"In almost every technology in that first year there are kinks that you need to work out," Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer, said on a news media call.

He said many of the dicamba issues are caused by farmers not following application labels, using contaminated equipment or buying older formulations of dicamba that are cheaper but more prone to drift.

The company, together with BASF SE and DuPont, which also produce dicamba-based weed killers, has agreed to additional safeguards for product use, Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn said in a statement.

The dicamba problem is the latest regulatory woe for Monsanto after California last month announced it would list glyphosate as a probable carcinogen in the state.

"It's not good for Monsanto - if anything, this is more likely to lead to lawsuits rather than additional sales," Jonas Oxgaard, an analyst with asset management firm Bernstein, said regarding the dicamba launch woes.

Dicamba is key to Monsanto's biggest-ever biotech seed launch, which occurred last year. Its Xtend line of soybeans and cotton are designed to tolerate the weed killer, which replaces earlier products that contained only glyphosate.

Some weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, which Monsanto introduced in the 1970s. Crop seeds such as corn, soybeans and cotton are genetically modified to survive the pesticide while yield-sapping weeds die.

Dicamba has long been used to kill weeds before crops are planted, but its use has spiked this season across the United States after regulators last year approved it for crops that are already growing.

Monsanto sells a new dicamba formulation under the name Xtendimax. The company says that Xtendimax drifts less than older versions. BASF and DuPont also sell less drift-prone formulations.

New restrictions in Tennessee include allowing application only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to limit potential pesticide drift and banning use of older dicamba formulations.

"I'm confident that we can address this issue as we have in other cases to ensure the safe and effective use of these tools," Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton said in a statement.

In Monsanto's home state of Missouri, state Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst commended the quick action to update guidelines on dicamba use, which are similar to those in Tennessee.

"The Special Local Need label is designed to provide additional protection for neighboring landowners and still allow the application of Dicamba to control weed problems," he said in a statement.


Item 3

REPORTED DICAMBA DAMAGE STILL ESCALATING NATIONALLY, ACCORDING TO UPDATED SURVEY

Bryce Gray
St. Louis Post
14 August 2017

http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/reported-dicamba-damage-still-escalating-nationally-according-to-updated-survey/article_1051b12d-daee-523b-a935-07ee2e1f1555.html

Scientists tracking reported dicamba damage released new data Monday that show the controversial weedkiller’s suspected footprint widening significantly, as numbers of investigations and estimated acres of soybeans injured spiral ever higher, especially across the Midwest.

The data, compiled by Kevin Bradley, a plant sciences professor at the University of Missouri, now show complaints about the herbicide’s off-target movement have now been made in 21 states, in a broad area stretching from North Dakota to Georgia.

Through surveys of state departments of agriculture, the findings identify at least 2,242 official investigations into dicamba damage nationwide, as of Aug. 10. Estimates from state extension weed scientists, meanwhile, show suspected dicamba damage has affected at least 3.1 million acres of soybeans overall — an area approaching the size of Connecticut.

The numbers are significant not just for their size and scale, but also for the rate at which they’ve leapt since Bradley conducted a similar survey just three weeks prior, when there were 1,411 investigations in the country across an estimated 2.5 million acres.

“Because there was still a lot of spraying that was occurring in the Midwest at the time, those maps were out of date the moment they were published,” Bradley wrote in the online post accompanying the updated totals. “In comparison to the previous reports from just a few weeks ago, the number of cases under investigation in many states in the Midwest has at least doubled, and the soybean acreage estimated with dicamba injury has increased dramatically in many of these same locations.”

Beginning this growing season, new formulations of the weedkiller were available for use with cotton and soybean seed varieties genetically engineered to tolerate the chemical. Though the new forms of dicamba are supposedly less prone to vaporizing and drifting off target than old varieties, experts say their widespread use and continued concerns about volatility have fueled this year’s eruption of complaints.

As Bradley notes, the ultimate effect any dicamba damage will have on yields and on farmers financially cannot truly be quantified until harvest time.

“In reality, we will likely not know the extent of dicamba damage until the end of the season,” he wrote.


Item 4

SCANT OVERSIGHT, CORPORATE SECRECY PRECEDED U.S. WEED KILLER CRISIS

Emily Flitter
9 August 2017
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-pesticides-dicamba-idUSKBN1AP0DN?il=0

NEW YORK (Reuters) - As the U.S. growing season entered its peak this summer, farmers began posting startling pictures on social media: fields of beans, peach orchards and vegetable gardens withering away.

The photographs served as early warnings of a crisis that has damaged millions of acres of farmland. New versions of the herbicide dicamba developed by Monsanto and BASF, according to farmers, have drifted across fields to crops unable to withstand it, a charge authorities are investigating.

As the crisis intensifies, new details provided to Reuters by independent researchers and regulators, and previously unreported testimony by a company employee, demonstrate the unusual way Monsanto introduced its product. The approach, in which Monsanto prevented key independent testing of its product, went unchallenged by the Environmental Protection Agency and nearly every state regulator.

Typically, when a company develops a new agricultural product, it commissions its own tests and shares the results and data with regulators. It also provides product samples to universities for additional scrutiny. Regulators and university researchers then work together to determine the safety of the product.

In this case, Monsanto denied requests by university researchers to study its XtendiMax with VaporGrip for volatility - a measure of its tendency to vaporize and drift across fields.

The researchers interviewed by Reuters - Jason Norsworthy at the University of Arkansas, Kevin Bradley at the University of Missouri and Aaron Hager at the University of Illinois - said Monsanto provided samples of XtendiMax before it was approved by the EPA. However, the samples came with contracts that explicitly forbade volatility testing.

"This is the first time I’m aware of any herbicide ever brought to market for which there were strict guidelines on what you could and could not do," Norsworthy said.

The researchers declined to provide Reuters a copy of the Monsanto contracts, saying they were not authorized to do so.

Monsanto's Vice President of Global Strategy, Scott Partridge, said the company prevented the testing because it was unnecessary. He said the company believed the product was less volatile than a previous dicamba formula that researchers found could be used safely.

"To get meaningful data takes a long, long time," he said. "This product needed to get into the hands of growers."

'Jeopardize the Federal Label'

Monsanto employee Boyd Carey, an agronomist, laid out the company's rationale for blocking the independent research at a hearing of the Arkansas Plant Board's Pesticide Committee in the summer of 2016.

A meeting summary by the Arkansas Legislature's Joint Budget Committee described Carey’s testimony as follows: "Boyd Carey is on record on Aug. 8 stating that the University of Arkansas nor any other university was given the opportunity to test VaporGrip in fear that the results may jeopardize the federal label."

Efforts to reach Carey were not successful. Monsanto declined to comment on his testimony.

To be sure, complaints about damaged crops are still under investigation and there is no evidence that independent testing of XtendiMax’s volatility would have altered the course of the crisis. But it would have given regulators a more complete picture of the formula’s properties as they decided if and how to let farmers use it, agriculture experts said.

In the end, the EPA approved the product without the added testing in September. It said it made its decision after reviewing company-supplied data, including some measuring volatility.

"EPA’s analysis of the data has shown reduced volatility potential with newer formulations," the EPA said in a July 27 statement.

However, EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham told Reuters the agency is "very concerned about the recent reports of crop damage" and is reviewing restrictions on dicamba labels.

Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robert Fraley said, "We firmly believe that our product if applied according to the instructions on the label will not move off target and damage anyone."


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