The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will allow farmers for the next five years to spray crops with a Bayer AG weed killer whose sales were blocked by a U.S. appeals court in June, Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Tuesday.
XtendiMax, a dicamba-based herbicide that is sprayed on soybeans and cotton genetically engineered to resist it, is known to drift away and damage other crops that are not resistant to it.
"This decision includes a five-year registration, providing certainty to growers as they make future purchasing decisions," Wheeler told reporters on a call.
The approval, he said, eliminates problems with the previous approval because it increases the size of buffer zones between crops sprayed with dicamba and other crops, as well as buffer zones with endangered species.
Wheeler said the expansion is not "automatic" and states would have to file "appropriate requests."
The decision is a boost for Bayer, which has been hammered by lawsuits over various chemicals in the United States since acquiring seed company Monsanto in 2018.
The EPA also approved the use of BASF SE's Engenia herbicide and extended an approval for Syngenta's Tavium.
Environmental groups have sought a ban on dicamba products, arguing they harm nearby plants and wildlife.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed this summer and ruled the EPA substantially understated the risks related to the use of dicamba. Its ruling also blocked sales of dicamba-based herbicides like Engenia and Corteva Agriscience's FeXapan.
The EPA's decision invalidates the court's ruling, experts said.
"Rather than evaluating the significant costs of dicamba drift as the 9th Circuit told them the law required, EPA rushed re-approval as a political prop just before the election,” said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety.
About 60% of the U.S. soybean crop this year was estimated to be seeded with Bayer's dicamba-resistant Xtend soybeans, according to Bayer. They need to be sprayed with the herbicide to ward off weeds that have developed a tolerance for another chemical, glyphosate.
The EPA said it would impose a June 30 deadline for farmers to spray dicamba on soybeans and a July 30 deadline for its use on cotton.
A National Cancer Institute study this year from earlier this year linked dicamba to liver and bile duct cancer, The Hill reported. But the EPA cited "several deficiencies" in the studies and found it not likely to be carcinogenic.
"Given EPA-approved versions of dicamba have already damaged millions of U.S. acres of crops and natural areas there’s no reason to trust that the agency got it right this time," Nathan Donley, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said.
"At this point, the EPA has shown such callous indifference to the damage dicamba has caused to farmers and wildlife alike, and has been so desperate to appease the pesticide industry, it has zero credibility when it comes to pesticide safety."
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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