The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated the registrations of three dicamba herbicides — Bayer's Xtendimax, BASF's Engenia and Corteva's FeXapan — after finding that EPA substantially understated or failed to consider the environmental and economic costs.
When it granted conditional registrations in October 2018, “EPA underestimated by as much as 25 percent the amount of DT [dicamba-tolerant] soybeans planted and, commensurately, the amount of dicamba herbicides applied in 2018,” which caused more than 1 million acres of damage in 18 states, the court said in its 56-page decision.
Loss of the herbicides in the middle of growing season will likely find growers scrambling to find alternatives. The court's decision does not address Tavium, Syngenta's dicamba herbicide.
"We acknowledge the difficulties these growers may have in finding effective and legal herbicides to protect their DT crops if we grant vacatur," the court said. "They have been placed in this situation through no fault of their own. However, the absence of substantial evidence to support the EPA’s decision compels us to vacate the registrations."
“EPA recognized that there had been an enormous increase in dicamba complaints in 2017 and 2018, but it purported to be agnostic as to whether those complaints under-reported or over-reported the amount of dicamba damage,” the court said. “In fact, record evidence shows that the complaints substantially under-reported the actual amount of damage.”
“EPA also entirely failed to acknowledge a social cost that had already been experienced and was likely to increase,” the court said. “The record contains extensive evidence that [over-the-top] application of dicamba herbicides has torn apart the social fabric of many farming communities.”
The decision was praised by the environmental groups that brought the case — the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.
The court found that EPA “refused to estimate the amount of dicamba damage” by characterizing it as ‘potential’ and ‘alleged,’ when in fact the record showed that “dicamba had caused substantial and undisputed damage,” the groups said in a news release. “Similarly, EPA ignored the consensus views of scientists, farmers, and even EPA officials that formal complaints of dicamba damage understated actual damage, solely because Monsanto had claimed the contrary.”
“This is a massive victory that will protect people and wildlife from uses of a highly toxic pesticide that never should’ve been approved by the EPA,” said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program.
Bayer said, “We strongly disagree with the ruling and are assessing our options," according to a company statement. “If the ruling stands, we will work quickly to minimize any impact on our customers this season. Our top priority is making sure our customers have the support they need to have a successful season."
The company also said EPA had "conducted an extensive review and considered all relevant science prior to issuing the current registration for XtendiMax" and said it "stands fully behind our XtendiMax product."
The court also found problems with the label used for the 2019 and 2020 growing seasons. “Extensive evidence in the record indicates that there is a risk of substantial non-compliance with the EPA-mandated label,” the court said.
“Even before the additional restrictions were added to the 2018 label, many industry professionals had been dismayed by the difficulty in complying with the complex and onerous label requirements,” the court said. “By October 2018, there was substantial evidence that even conscientious applicators had not been able consistently to adhere to the label requirements.”
In its Oct. 31, 2018, decision approving over-the-top use of dicamba on dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton, “EPA nowhere acknowledged the evidence in the record showing there had been substantial difficulty in complying with the mitigation requirements of earlier labels,” the court said. “Nor did it acknowledge the likelihood that the additional mitigation requirements imposed by the 2018 label would increase the degree of non-compliance.”
The court also said EPA had "entirely failed to acknowledge the substantial risk that the registrations would have anticompetitive economic effects in the soybean and cotton industries."
The decision does not vacate the registrations automatically. A mandate enforcing the court’s order has yet to be issued, but the court said one would be “forthwith.”
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