Editor’s Desk: How the EPA ignored science

Sharon and Kelvin Dordon, who farm in Bernie, Missouri, say this is what dicamba, which drifted from neighboring farms, did to their crops. Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht.

Call it the dicamba debacle. FERN was aware that the dicamba herbicide, used in concert with genetically engineered soy and cotton, was causing widespread damage across farm country, so we asked one of our investigative reporters, Liza Gross, to look into the issue. What she found was a blockbuster of a story, “Scientists warned this weedkiller would destroy crops. EPA approved it anyway.”

The investigation — in collaboration with Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting — documents how the EPA for years ignored scientific evidence that dicamba was prone to drift onto nearby fields and kill non-GMO crops that weren’t designed to resist it. “In the past two years, its use has grown exponentially, and now dicamba is destroying millions of acres of crops worth millions of dollars, pitting farmer against farmer and scientists against manufacturers,” writes Gross.

Using documents obtained through public records requests and lawsuits, Gross details how scientists had shown that dicamba would evaporate into the air and ruin crops miles away. Yet the EPA bypassed those findings and instead looked at studies by the companies that manufacture the herbicide, which independent scientists say were “seriously flawed.”

The result: approval of a pesticide that is still causing enormous conflict, and damage, in rural areas.

In a second story this week, we dive (literally) into the murky world of sea-cucumber smuggling in a story with National Geographic. Though little known, these creatures are poached the world over for the lucrative Chinese market. But as South African journalist Kimon De Greef shows in the story, “Sea cucumbers are being eaten to death,” poaching isn’t simply a story of wrongdoing. It arises out of economic desperation by fishermen, in this case in Morocco, risking their lives to make a few extra dollars. The bulk of the money these sea creatures generate, of course, goes to global smuggling cartels.

These stories on government malfeasance and illegal food trade are expensive — both Gross and De Greef worked on their projects for months — and that’s why your continued support of FERN is so vital. Starting now, through Dec. 31, #NewsMatch, a national call-to-action that supports nonprofit news organizations like us, will match your new monthly donation up to 12x. Donate as little as $10 per month and we get $120 in matching funds! And #NewsMatch will still double your one-time gift, all up to $1,000 per person.

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With your support we can continue digging into important stories like these.