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An herbicide so hazardous that courts have banned it twice

From Bill Freese,
April 2024

The most perverse myth of all is that dicamba is needed to prevent the development of weeds resistant to other herbicides – perverse because it obscures the real story, which is that excessive reliance on dicamba is already driving evolution of dicamba-resistant weeds in multiple states. This development is drawing comparisons to the explosive emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds with the widespread planting of Roundup Ready crops. The only real solution to weed resistance is less reliance on herbicides overall.

hazardous pesticides

In early February, something rather extraordinary happened in the world of American farming. For the second time, a federal court banned the hazardous herbicide dicamba, which has been wreaking havoc on farmers, rural communities and the natural world for seven long years. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) re-approved dicamba after the first court action. Will it do so once again?

What about dicamba makes it so hazardous that courts have overruled EPA twice? It’s an incredibly volatile, drift-prone weed-killer, and extremely potent as well: just one teaspoon over an acre stunts tomato plants. It vaporizes while being sprayed, but also evaporates from plant surfaces and soil days after a spraying operation. Once the vapor is airborne, it forms clouds that drift long distances to kill or injure virtually any flowering plant in its path.

And that’s precisely what happened following Monsanto’s 2016 introduction of soybeans and cotton genetically engineered (GE) to withstand dicamba’s killing effects. Widespread planting of these new GE crops triggered a dramatic upsurge in use during late spring and summer, when heat enhances dicamba’s volatility.

Dicamba has drifted rampantly from these GE fields, damaging millions of acres of non-dicamba-resistant soybeans. Wave after wave of dicamba vapor drift killed fruit trees, or left them with small, unsaleable fruit. Vegetable farms and gardens were devastated. Trees in natural areas suffered. And beekeepers reported steep drops in honey production where dicamba had devasted the flowering plants their bees require for nectar and pollen.


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