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EPA Reviews Bayer Herbicide Blamed for Widespread U.S. Crop Damage

By Tom Polansek

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is assessing whether the weed killer dicamba can be sprayed safely on soybean and cotton plants genetically engineered to resist the chemical, without the procedure posing "unreasonable risks" to other crops, an agency official said on Tuesday.

Farmers and scientists for years have reported problems with dicamba drifting away from where it is sprayed on fields, causing damage to nearby plants not modified to resist the herbicide.

The EPA said it received about 3,500 reports this year indicating that more than a million acres of non-dicamba-tolerant soybean crops were allegedly damaged when the chemical drifted from where it was applied. Trees and crops like rice and grapes also suffered damage, the agency said.

The number, severity and geographic extent of the incidents was similar to last year, even though the EPA had tightened restrictions on dicamba use for the 2021 growing season, the agency said.

"Right now we don't know whether over-the-top dicamba can be used in a manner that doesn't pose unreasonable risks to non-target crops and other plants," said Michal Freedhoff, an EPA assistant administrator.

The EPA is evaluating all its options for addressing future dicamba-related incidents, Freedhoff said.

Further restrictions would be a blow to Bayer AG, which sells the herbicide under the name XtendiMax, as well as seeds to grow dicamba-resistant crops. The company has settled lawsuits brought by land owners who say their crops were damaged by neighbors using dicamba.

Bayer said it believes the EPA's latest restrictions on use, announced in October 2020, "helped the vast majority of XtendiMax herbicide users succeed with weed control and on-target applications this season."

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