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If members of Congress were so aggrieved by the incalculable damage caused by chemicals sprayed on farms in their own states, these politicians could immediately pass a law banning or restricting their use.
But for dozens of U.S. senators, the suffering of others is seemingly of no significant concern.
Such is the case with the herbicide dicamba and the unmitigated disaster that it has left in its wake.
Initially pitched to GMO farmers as a “miracle” chemical for weed control, it has been anything but, largely because it is incredibly volatile and prone to drift.
With dicamba sprayed on approximately 60 million acres of genetically-engineered soybean crops in the U.S. in 2020, the complaints have been so numerous, widespread and devastating that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the chemical has “torn apart the social fabric of many farming communities” due to the property damage caused by its spraying and the ensuing conflict between neighbors.
Making matters worse is that this super-toxic herbicide is associated with certain types of cancers, and animal studies have found that dicamba can alter liver function in a way that is known to induce liver tumors and promote liver cancer in combination with other carcinogens. Dicamba is also known to cause DNA mutations and induce oxidative stress, two pathways known to cause cancer.
In its report about dicamba released last December, the EPA acknowledged the following:
* In 2021, EPA received nearly 3,500 reports alleging effects from off-target movement of over-the-top (OTT) dicamba onto various non-target vegetation, including non-dicamba-tolerant cotton and more than 1M acres of non-dicamba-tolerant soybeans. Also impacted were ornamental plants, other crops (sugarbeet, rice, sweet potato, peanut, grapes, cucurbits, vegetables, fruit trees, caneberries) and natural areas, including at least 160,000 acres of vegetation in a wildlife refuge.
* There have also been more than 290 incidents reported in counties where additional restrictions were implemented to prevent off-field exposures to endangered species and critical habitat.
* The EPA expects that OTT dicamba-related incidents continue to be under-observed and underreported.
* Damage resulting from off-target movement of dicamba has caused social conflicts in agricultural communities since dicamba-tolerant seeds were first commercialized, including strained relationships with neighbors, vandalism and violent altercations, as well as murder.
Citing statutory processes the agency is required to follow, including a required public comment period, the EPA announced that it would not cancel or impose further restrictions on its 2020 registration of over-the-top spraying of dicamba pesticides on crops genetically engineered to withstand them, before the 2022 growing season.
While some people may express concern about the EPA not banning dicamba immediately, the agency most likely believes that it would be besieged by lawsuits from the industry for not following exact procedures when it wants to cancel a pesticide under its own initiative; thus, making the rapid banishment of dicamba next to impossible and further draining an already resource-depleted agency. (To give some context, the EPA had 14,172 employees in 2020 and 16,318 employees in 1990. In 2020, the U.S. population was 331M, and in 1990 it was 249M.)
Share of soybean acres planted with dicamba-tolerant seeds in 2018.
(Source and image credit: USDA Economic Research Service)
Percent of cotton acres planted with dicamba-tolerant seeds in major cotton-growing states.
(Source and image credit: USDA Economic Research Service, 2019)
With the EPA acknowledging the litany of harm that this chemical has caused yet not banning it for the 2022 growing season, the logical next question is: what is Congress doing about it?
If Congress really wanted to ban or restrict the use of dicamba — and protect innocent citizens in this country — it could do so immediately and pass a bill mandating this.
Organic Insider conducted a search of senators from the states that grow the most dicamba-tolerant, genetically-engineered soybeans and cotton in the U.S. and looked at all of the bills they sponsored or voted for, in regards to restricting or banning dicamba. We found the following actions:
(Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2021. The acreage listed above is the total number of cotton and soybeans grown in each state in 2021. On a national basis, approximately 75% of the cotton acreage and about 66% of the soybean acreage are planted with dicamba-tolerant seeds.)
WHEN WILL WE DEMAND SOMETHING DIFFERENT?
It is the job of Congress to write laws, whereas government agencies are charged with administering laws.
So, with a federal court declaring that dicamba has “torn apart the social fabric of many farming communities” and the EPA reporting that dicamba is causing “social conflicts in agricultural communities…including physical harm, retribution, intimidation, violent altercations, as well as a fatal shooting,” Congress has the power to take action in a decisive and expedient manner. Yet, it chooses to do nothing.
The question we need to be asking ourselves is: why do we continue to elect politicians who implement agricultural policies that do not meet our needs or keep us protected?
Max Goldberg, Founder
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* Tonight at 6pm EST, as part of the Real Organic Project’s Milk & Money Symposium, Stonyfield’s Gary Hirshberg will be pitching his plan to save small organic dairy farms dumped by Horizon (Danone). Also, if you live anywhere from New York City to Maine, please be sure to sign the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership pledge.
* On Wednesday, February 9th at 11:30am EST, I will be a guest on Steve Hoffman’s Compass Coffee Talk, talking about the most pressing issues facing our industry. Registration is free.
* Cal-Berkeley’s MBA program just won The Financial Times’ Responsible Business Education Award for Teaching Case for “Patagonia’s Path to Carbon Neutrality by 2025.”
* Thrive Market has earned TRUE Zero Waste Certification for its fulfillment centers in Nevada and Indiana.
* Gallant International has launched the world’s largest Regenerative Organic Certified cotton project.
* Jaydee Hanson, Policy Director at the Center for Food Safety, and I discuss the very worrisome situation of GMO mosquitos in California.
* Former REBBL CEO Sheryl O’Loughlin has joined the Board of Directors at Farmer Focus.
* Natural Grocers has just published its 2021 Environmental, Social and Governance Report.
* Superstar DJ, Calvin Harris, quit his showbiz lifestyle and now runs the largest organic farm in Ibiza.
* Grammy award winner Macklemore has joined CLEAN Cause as an investor and creative director.
* Very sad news about the recent passing of Patrick Kerrigan, who was a vital and beloved force at the Organic Consumers Association for so many years.