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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Dicamba is the latest pesticide caught in the crosshairs

The war on pesticides continues.

A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday, Feb. 6 canceled the registration of three dicamba-based herbicides used in agriculture and said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency broke the law when it approved them four years ago.

David Bury, senior U.S. district judge for the District of Arizona, vacated the registrations of Bayer's XtendiMax, BASF's Engenia and Tavium from Syngenta, citing drift concerns affecting non-target crops. All three are key tools in fighting a variety of weeds in genetically modified soybeans and cotton that are resistant to dicamba.

The registrations of all three products were either granted or renewed in 2020 when the EPA was assured necessary steps had been taken to reduce or minimize the effects on non-target species. 

In his decision Tuesday, Bury wrote in his decision that before approving the registrations the EPA failed to allow for a public comment period, which is required by law.

Although the ruling affects only products that include dicamba for use in agriculture, the active ingredient also is the basis for several herbicides in the turf and ornamentals market.

According to reports, the three manufacturers affected in the Arizona ruling are waiting to see whether the EPA recognizes the decision.

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"The EPA followed a science-based approach to evaluate and manage ecological risks and balance agricultural and societal benefits before granting the current Engenia herbicide registration. Engenia herbicide is generally safe when used according to its label," said a news release from BASF. 

"BASF is reviewing the Order and assessing its legal options while awaiting direction from the U.S. EPA on actions it will take as a result of the Order.

"BASF remains committed to working with the EPA and other stakeholders to identify workable, durable weed control solutions for dicamba-tolerant crops and serving its customers by offering effective crop protection solutions."

In a separate release, officials from Bayer, which  said they were waiting for the EPA to assess the decision.

dicamba was banned for use in agriculture in June 2020 when an appellate court decided the chemistry was more harmful than stated by the EPA. The agency decided farmers could exhaust existing supplies before the ban went into effect and later reauthorized their use.

The news is of particular significance to Bayer, which was ordered to pay $10.9 billion in settlements in 2020 to plaintiffs claiming the weedkiller caused their non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Bayer, which eventually sold its T&O business in 2022 to Envu, has been ordered to pay an additional $4 billion in settlements since November 2023.

Like Roundup with the active ingredient glyphosate, Bayer inherited its dicamba-based herbicide when it acquired Monsanto in 2018.

Other pesticides that have been used in golf, including neonicotinoids, chlorpyrifos, have faced partial or complete bans in the recent past, as well.

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