EPA rushed to issue 2020 dicamba approval despite scientific concerns, documents reveal

By Johnathan Hettinger

In December 2021, a small team of scientists working for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a stark report on a controversial weed killer that had been the subject of years of complaints from farmers and environmentalists.

Despite new restrictions, the government scientists confirmed that the damage from the weed killer known as dicamba was nearly impossible to contain; once sprayed onto targeted farm fields where genetically engineered crops were designed to withstand the chemical, dicamba then easily and frequently moved far off target to harm millions of acres of other crops and endangered species. The agency scientists concluded that because of these broad risks, it was doubtful that dicamba, used on tens of millions acres of cotton and soybean crops in the U.S., could legally be kept on the market. 

“EPA has reason to believe the number of incidents reported significantly understates the actual number of incidents related to dicamba use,” the agency said at the time. 

Despite the public acknowledgements of the problems posed by dicamba, the EPA has taken little action over the last two years to curtail its use. And now, as US farmers prepare for another growing season, dicamba spraying is expected to lead to costly crop damage on farms throughout the US Midwest and southern farming states, just as it has in prior years. 

Documents obtained through an ongoing lawsuit against the EPA over its approval of dicamba show that the agency’s lack of action to address the documented harms of dicamba is in sharp contrast to the agency’s rush to renew approval of the chemical in 2020. 

And, notably, the documents also show that the EPA’s urgency to grant the 2020 renewal came amid numerous meetings with executives from Bayer, the German company that bought Monsanto in 2018, inheriting Monsanto’s portfolio of weed killing products that included dicamba brands.