Dicamba: Glyphosate Version 2.0 For An Epidemic Of Superweeds

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Like superbugs that resist antibiotics, superweeds have grown resistant to glyphosate, the chemical compound created by Monsanto and active ingredient in Roundup Weed Killer. 

After a quarter of a century since Monsanto introduced to market so-called “Roundup Ready ” soybeans, which are widely considered the first major genetically-modified crops, the advocacy group Beyond Pesticides says there is now an “epidemic” of glyphosate-resistant weeds that has been unleashed by massive use of this herbicide on genetically-engineered crops, as well as plant and crop damage from glyphosate drift.

According to opening arguments and evidence filed by the Center for Food Safety in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) re-approval of glyphosate, superweeds create substantial costs to farmers to control them, including increased expenditures on additional pesticides and increased use of soil-eroding tillage. This increase in tillage comes with a price tag of $450 million in damages to water quality and climate effects. 

What has been the response of the Environmental Protection Agency in light of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and in light of that agency’s recent draft on glyphosate’s damaging effects on endangered species of animals and plants? Is the EPA considering removing the herbicide/glyphosate from the marketplace? And what has been the agricultural industry’s response to the EPA draft and weeds that grow out of control even after being sprayed with glyphosate?

Instead of relying on natural solutions, the opening statement prepared by the Center for Food Safety and other plaintiffs suggests that Monsanto has forced farmers to use a new generation of GMO crops, engineered to resist the pesticide, dicamba. 

Is dicamba the answer to solving superweeds? Not according to the opening statement, which seeks to have glyphosate removed from the marketplace. “In a repetition of the glyphosate debacle, dramatically increased spraying of dicamba to kill glyphosate-resistant weeds is already triggering a predicted rise in weeds resistant to both pesticides,” the statement reads. 

A science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety (CFS), told Beyond Pesticides that “EPA has done nothing to halt or even slow this toxic spiral of increasing resistance and herbicide use.”

“Massive use of dicamba, a volatile chemical extremely prone to drift, has caused unprecedented drift damage to millions of acres of crops across the country,” the Center for Food Safety’s opening statement reads. 

According to an expose by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting (supported with a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism), Monsanto knew that millions of acres of cropland on thousands of farms were being damaged by dicamba drift. Yet, officials with the company (which was acquired by Bayer in 2018) viewed the widespread crop damage as a sales opportunity.

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting quotes a Monsanto employee’s email from 2017: “I think we can significantly grow business and have a positive effect on the outcome of 2017 if we reach out to all the driftee people.” 

Both Monsanto and the EPA’s studies showed dicamba posed a risk to over 300 federally-protected species of animals and plants. However, the EPA approved the herbicide in 2016. 

According to an estimate from the University of Missouri, over 3.5 million acres of soybeans were damaged by dicamba in 2017. The following year, over 4 million acres were damaged. Despite the widespread damage, dicamba was re-approved by the EPA for 2019 and 2020.

Moreover, Bayer is expected next year to release new dicamba-resistant soybean seeds. The new seeds are engineered to also resist glufosinate, another herbicide. The new dicamba-glufosinate weed killer will cover 20 million acres. The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting says that as dicamba wreaks havoc on adjacent farms not sprayed with pesticides, many farmers are “feeling bullied” into buying dicamba-tolerant crops.

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