In summer 2020, a federal court ruled the EPA showed too much deference to Bayer when it approved the company’s dicamba herbicide. This invalidated the approval. But, weeks later, Bayer began working the EPA again, according to newly obtained emails.
ByJohnathan Hettinger, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
Senior Trump Environmental Protection Agency officials changed career scientists’ analyses and conclusions in order to support the re-registration of the herbicide dicamba in 2018, according to a report from a federal watchdog published Monday.
As one would expect, Bader Farms v. Monsanto Company – as the first dicamba-related case to go to trial – was about as high profile as it gets. Especially after the jury punched Monsanto right between the eyes in awarding Bader Farms $265 million for dicamba damage to the farm's peach orchards.
We now have an admission of guilt from EPA that it wrongly issued 2018 dicamba registrations for Bayer's XtendiMax herbicide, BASF's Engenia herbicide and Corteva's FeXapan herbicide. New acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff said as much to EPA staffers in an internal e-mail on March 10 that read in part:
So, to summarize, environmentalists hate the dicamba registrations. Farmers hate the dicamba registrations. A huge turnover at the top of EPA is underway due to last November's elections. And the clock is ticking on the start of the 2021 planting season. If that's not a whole bunch of uncertainty surrounding dicamba, I don't know what is. Time is of the essence and the feds and courts need to quickly provide guidance.
Movie plot: In a heroic effort to save the world's soybean crop from dastardly evolving weeds the Environmental Protection Agency authorizes Big Ag – staring Bayer AG and BASF – to unleash the flawed herbicide dicamba in a desperate all-out assault. The EPA acknowledges the holy h-e-double-toothpicks of dicamba is risky but assures everyone they've “got a label” for that. Dicamba beats back the weed invaders, but collateral damage is huge to the nation's peach, cotton, tobacco, tomato, and sunflower crops. EPA says it's sorry about all the unwanted damage and swears to tweak dicamba rules of weed engagement and next time it will be difference (cue patriotic music and American flags).
Since 1970, Bill Bader has worked on peach farms in Dunklin County, Missouri, just north of the Arkansas border. Bader started picking peaches at age 13, and in 1988, he established Bader Farms.
The farm grew to become the largest peach grower in Missouri, shipping fruit to grocery stores such as IGA and Wal-Mart, as well as others across eight states in the Midwest and South. “A peach we picked today will be in the grocery store tomorrow morning,” Bader testified in federal court in Cape Girardeau on Tuesday. Bader took the stand a week and a half into a trial of a lawsuit he filed against German agribusiness giants Bayer and BASF. Bader alleges that drift from the herbicide dicamba has damaged his peach trees and made his 1,000-acre operation no longer sustainable.
While BASF was telling farmers there would be no yield impacts from dicamba drift in 2017, the company was privately telling pesticide applicators that any drift they caused could cause yield loss, according to Monday video testimony from Gary Schmitz, tech service regional manager for the Midwest. Schmitz was the first official from BASF to testify in the ongoing trial of the civil lawsuit filed by Bader Farms, the largest peach farm in Missouri. In the lawsuit, Bader Farms alleges that Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018, and BASF knew their dicamba-related products released beginning in 2015 would cause damage to other farmers, yet released the products anyway.
Monsanto released cotton seeds genetically engineered to withstand being sprayed by dicamba in 2015 and similar soybean seeds in 2016, but neither BASF nor Monsanto released accompanying herbicides, designed to be less volatile than older versions of dicamba, until 2017. In 2015 and 2016, many farmers illegally sprayed BASF’s older versions of the volatile herbicide on their dicamba-tolerant crops, according to the lawsuit. Bader Farms alleges that it is no longer a sustainable business after being hit by dicamba drift each year since 2015.