Soybean and cotton growers in Arkansas are free to spray the weedkiller dicamba on their crops until June 30 under an order from the Arkansas Supreme Court on Tuesday. It was the latest turnabout in court for use of the herbicide, which has been embraced by farmers as a tool against invasive weeds but criticized as too likely to evaporate from its target areas and land on nearby fields.
The Salton Sea, the largest lake in California, is drying up, revealing a bed packed with toxic chemicals, the residue of a century of runoff from Imperial Valley farms. Public-health experts worry that those chemicals pose a grave risk to the health of people who live nearby, mostly farmworkers, the elderly and families too poor to relocate, as Lindsay Fendt reports in FERN's latest story, published with The Weather Channel. (No paywall)
The 2016 acquisition by Bayer of seed and chemical giant Monsanto has turned out to be a rotten deal. Shares in the German company have fallen 30 percent since the $63 billion deal closed, and are now at just 50 percent of their value in 2015, when the company was Germany’s most valuable.
Farmers have been using the weed killer glyphosate – a key ingredient of the product Roundup – at soaring levels even as glyphosate has become increasingly less effective and as health concerns and lawsuits mount. Nationwide, the use of glyphosate on crops increased from 13.9 million pounds in 1992 to 287 million pounds in 2016, according to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey. (No paywall)
The Food and Drug Administration says it has not found illegally high residues of the weedkiller glyphosate in samples of corn, soy, milk or eggs. But informal work by its scientists found residues in an array of commonly consumed food, said the Guardian. The FDA has been testing food for traces of glyphosate for two years and will likely release an official report later this year or in early 2019.
Syngenta announced this week that it will pay $550,000 in fines after the Environmental Protection Agency found that it misused the pesticide chlorpyrifos at a test field in Hawaii. The fine is dramatically lower than the nearly $5 million initially sought by the Obama administration. Scott Pruitt, Trump's EPA chief, overruled a recommendation by agency scientists to ban chlorpyrifos for agricultural use.
At a high-tension House hearing, members of Congress and expert witnesses yet again debated the safety of the pesticide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, the most popular herbicide in the world. The hearing, convened by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, brought a diverse panel to weigh the Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of the chemical’s safety against the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s assessment.
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey found neonicotinoid insecticides in 74 percent of the water samples they analyzed from 10 major tributaries of the Great Lakes. The insecticides were "detected in every month sampled and five of the six target neonicotinoids were detected." Environmental Health News says the study "suggests the Great Lakes' fish, birds and entire ecosystems might be at risk" from the insecticides that are believed to be a factor in high mortality rates of honeybees.
Hundreds of schools in the Midwest "nestle against fields of corn and soybeans that are routinely sprayed with pesticides that could drift onto school grounds," but states "do not require any kind of buffer zones and seldom require any notification that pesticides are about to be sprayed," says the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Nine states in other parts of the country, with California the most prominent, have laws that mandate buffer zones.
Effective Jan. 1, California farmers will be prohibited from spraying pesticides within a quarter-mile of public schools and licensed day-care centers from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on school days under a rule issued by the state Department of Pesticide Regulation. Regulators say the rule is among the strictest in the country, according to The Associated Press.
In Cuba, a movement of rural, organic farms is trying to both feed the island's people and heal its soil, writes Roger Atwood in FERN’s new story with The Guardian. In recent years, Cuba has been romanticized as an island full of urban farms, but in reality the government imports 60-80 percent of the nation's food and farmers make abundant use of agro-industrial chemicals and synthetic fertilizers on their farms. Yet, an increasing number of growers are realizing the virtues of organic.
A Trump administration appointee at EPA has taken an influential role in federal assessment of the risk posed by hazardous chemicals, "making it more aligned with the industry's wishes," reports the New York Times. The new approach includes the EPA decision in March to allow continued agriculture use of chlorpyrifos, an insecticide criticized as a risk to children and farmworkers.
Researchers have developed the first genetically modified version of a Cavendish banana that is resistant to the devastating soil-borne fungus known as Panama disease. The fungus, or Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4), can stay in the soil for 40 years and doesn’t respond to chemical sprays. It has destroyed Cavendish — the main commercial banana variety — plantations around the world, and is fast spreading across Asia.
Monsanto chief technology officer Robb Fraley says there will be enough dicamba-tolerant seed available to account for half of U.S. soybean plantings next year. At the same time that EPA reportedly is considering new guidelines on use of the weedkiller, Fraley described dicamba as a "tremendous success" for "the overwhelming majority of farmers using" the low-volatility formulation of the herbicide.
Responding to more than 700 complaints of crop damage due to pesticide drift, Missouri and Arkansas banned temporarily the use of the weedkiller dicamba, a stunning setback for an herbicide promoted as the answer to fast-growing invasive weeds that are resistant to other chemical controls. Seed and ag-chemical giant Monsanto said the Arkansas ban was premature and told growers, "[T]o ensure your continued access to dicamba, make sure your elected officials and relevant agencies" hear dicamba success stories.
Six state prosecutors from New York, Maryland, Vermont, Washington, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia are joining environmental and social advocacy groups in a lawsuit to push the EPA to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos. "It is EPA's responsibility to protect Americans from unsafe chlorpyrifos residues on food because of the potential neuro-developmental and other adverse health effects caused by exposure," the prosecutors said in their filing, according to Reuters.
A coalition of seven states from California to New York states filed a challenge that asks the EPA to end the use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos, widely used in agriculture but criticized as a risk to children and farm workers. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt denied in March a petition by environmental groups to ban the chemical and said his decision was based on sound science.
Last summer, a federal appeals court gave the EPA until March 31 — this Friday — to decide whether to ban or allow continued use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos, used on more than 50 crops, including alfalfa, corn, peanuts and wheat. Mother Jones says the new administration "will have to make a momentous choice" in its early days in office.
The largest U.S. farm organization and state agriculture directors petitioned the EPA to delay the Jan. 2 implementation of revised pesticide safety rules for growers and farmworkers. Under the rules, for the first time, people under the age of 18 years will be prohibited from handling pesticides.