Bayer settles U.S. Roundup, dicamba and PCB litigation for more than $10 billion

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In an expensive clean-up of Monsanto litigation messes, Bayer AG said Wednesday that it will pay out more than $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of U.S. claims brought against Monsanto over its Roundup herbicide, as well as $400 million to resolve lawsuits over Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide and $650 million for PCB pollution claims.

The resolutions come two years after Bayer bought Monsanto for $63 billion and almost immediately saw share prices plummet due to the Roundup liability.

Bayer announced that it will pay $10.1 billion to $10.9 billion total to resolve roughly 75 percent of the claims by an estimated 125,000 people who allege exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killers caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The deal includes plaintiffs who have retained attorneys with the intent to sue but whose cases have not yet been filed, Bayer said.  Within that total, a payment of $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion will resolve the current litigation and $1.25 billion is being set aside to support potential future litigation, the company said.

The plaintiffs included in the settlement are those signed with the law firms that have been leading the Roundup federal multi-district litigation (MDL) and include The Miller Firm of Virginia, the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman firm of Los Angeles and the Andrus Wagstaff firm of Denver, Colorado.

“After years of hard fought litigation and a year of intense mediation I am glad to see our clients will now be compensated,” said Mike Miller, of the Miller law firm.

The Miller firm and the Baum Hedlund firm worked together to win the first case to go to trial, that of California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson. Andrus Wagstaff won the second trial and The Miller Firm won the third case to go to trial. In all, the three trials resulted in jury verdicts totaling more than $2.3 billion, though the trial judges in each case lowered the verdicts.

The juries in all three trials found that Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides, such as Roundup, caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up the risks and failed to warns users.

Each of the three trial verdicts are going through the appeals process now and Bayer said the plaintiffs in those cases are not included in the settlement.

Bayer said future Roundup claims will be part of a class agreement subject to approval by Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, who ordered the year-long mediation process that led to the settlement.

The agreement would take any future findings on cancer claims out of the hands of  juries, Bayer said. Instead, there will be the creation of an independent “Class Science Panel.” The Class Science Panel will determine whether Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and if so, at what minimum exposure levels.  Both the plaintiffs in the class action and Bayer will be bound by the Class Science Panel’s determination.  If the Class Science Panel determines there is no causal connection between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma then the class members will be barred from claiming otherwise in any future litigation against Bayer.

Bayer said the Class Science Panel’s determination is expected to take several years and class members will not be permitted to proceed with Roundup claims prior to that determination. They also cannot seek punitive damages, Bayer said.

“The Roundup™ agreements are designed as a constructive and reasonable resolution to a unique litigation,” said Kenneth R. Feinberg, the court-appointed mediator for the settlement talks.

Even as they announced the settlement, Bayer officials continued to deny Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides cause cancer.

“The extensive body of science indicates that Roundup does not cause cancer, and therefore, is not responsible for the illnesses alleged in this litigation,” Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said in a statement.

Dicamba Deal

Bayer also announced a mass tort agreement to settle U.S. dicamba drift litigation, which involves claims from farmers that use of dicamba herbicides developed by Monsanto and BASF to be sprayed over dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto caused widespread crop loss and injury.

In a trial earlier this year, Monsanto was ordered to pay $265 million to a Missouri peach farmer for dicamba drift damage to his orchard.

More than 100 other farmers have made similar legal claims. Bayer said it will pay up to a total of $400 million to resolve the multi-district dicamba litigation that is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, with claims for the 2015-2020 crop years. Claimants will be required to provide proof of damage to crop yields and evidence that it was due to dicamba in order to collect. The company expects a contribution from its co-defendant, BASF, towards this settlement.

The settlement will provide “much-needed resources for farmers” who have suffered crop losses due to drifting dicamba herbicides, said lawyer Joseph Peiffer of the Peiffer Wolf law firm, which represents farmers with dicamba claims.

“The settlement announced today is an important step to making things right for the farmers who just want to be able to put food on the table of America and the world,” Peiffer said.

Earlier this month a federal court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had violated the law when it approved dicamba herbicides made by Monsanto, BASF and Corteva Agriscience. The court found the EPA ignored the risks of dicamba damage.

PCB Pollution Settlement 

Bayer also announced a series of agreements that resolve cases the company said represent most of its  exposure to litigation involving water contamination by PCBs, which Monsanto manufactured until  1977. One agreement establishes a class that includes all local governments with EPA permits involving water discharges impaired by PCBs. Bayer said it will pay a total of approximately $650 million to the class, which will be subject to court approval.

Additionally, Bayer said it has entered into separate agreements with the Attorneys-General of New Mexico, Washington, and the District of Columbia to resolve PCB claims. For these agreements, which are separate from the class, Bayer will make payments totally approximately $170 million.

Bayer said the potential cash outflow will not exceed $5 billion in 2020 and $5 billion in 2021 with the remaining balance to be paid in 2022 or later.

The Dicamba Papers: Key Documents and Analysis

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Dozens of farmers around the United States are suing the former Monsanto Co., purchased in 2018 by Bayer AG, and conglomerate BASF in an effort to hold the companies accountable for millions of acres of crop damage the farmers claim is due to widespread illegal use of the weed killing chemical dicamba, use  promoted by the companies.

The first case to go to trial pitted Missouri’s Bader Farms against the companies and resulted in a $265 million verdict against the companies. The jury awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Southeastern Division, Civil Docket #1:16-cv-00299-SNLJ. The owners of Bader Farms alleged the companies conspired to create an “ecological disaster” that would induce farmers to buy dicamba-tolerant seeds. Key documents from that case can be found below.

The EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) plans to investigate the agency’s approvals of new dicamba herbicides to determine whether the EPA adhered to federal requirements and “scientifically sound principles” when it registered the new dicamba herbicides.

FEDERAL ACTION

Separately, on June 3, 2020. the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the Environmental Protection Agency had violated the law in approving dicamba herbicides make by Bayer, BASF and Corteva Agrisciences and overturned the agency’s approval of the popular dicamba-based herbicides made by the three chemical giants. The ruling made it illegal for farmers to continue to use the product.

But the EPA flouted the court ruling, issuing a notice on June 8 that said growers could continue to use the companies’ dicamba herbicides until July 31, despite the fact that the court specifically said in its order that it wanted no delay in vacating those approvals. The court cited damage done by dicamba use in past summers to millions of acres of crops, orchards and vegetable plots across U.S. farm country.

On June 11, 2020, the petitioners in the case filed an emergency motion seeking to enforce the court order and to hold the EPA in contempt. Several farm associations have joined with Corteva, Bayer and BASF in asking the court not to immediately enforce the ban. Documents are found below.

BACKGROUND: Dicamba has been used by farmers since the 1960s but with limits that took into account the chemical’s propensity to drift and volatilize- moving far from where it was sprayed. When Monsanto’s popular glyphosate weed killing products, such as Roundup, started losing effectiveness due to widespread weed resistance, Monsanto decided to launch a dicamba cropping system similar to its popular Roundup Ready system, which paired glyphosate-tolerant seeds with glyphosate herbicides. Farmers buying the new genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds could more easily treat stubborn weeds by spraying  entire fields with dicamba, even during warm growing months, without harming their crops. Monsanto announced a collaboration with BASF in 2011. The companies said their new dicamba herbicides would be less volatile and less prone to drift than old formulations of dicamba.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide “XtendiMax” in 2016. BASF developed its own dicamba herbicide that it calls Engenia. Both XtendiMax and Engenia were first sold in the United States in 2017.

Monsanto started selling its dicamba-tolerant seeds in 2016, and a key claim by the plaintiffs is that selling the seeds before regulatory approval of the new dicamba herbicides encouraged farmers to spray fields with old, highly volatile dicamba formulations. The Bader lawsuit claims: “The cause of such destruction to Plaintiff Bader Farms’ crops is Defendant Monsanto’s willful and negligent release of a defective crop system – namely its genetically modified Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans and Bollgard II Xtend cotton seeds (“Xtend crops”) – without an accompanying, EPA-approved dicamba herbicide.”

Farmers claim that the companies knew and expected that the new seeds would spur such widespread use of dicamba that drift would damage the fields of farmers who did not buy the genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds. The farmers allege this was part of a scheme to expand sales of the genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds. Many allege the new dicamba formulations sold by the companies also drift and cause crop damage just as the old versions have done.

For more information about dicamba, please see our dicamba fact sheet.

Big Ag groups argue court cannot tell EPA when to ban dicamba

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The heaviest of Big Ag’s heavy hitters told a federal court it should not try to stop GMO cotton and soybean farmers from using illegal dicamba weed killers through the end of July, despite the court’s order earlier this month for an immediate ban.

Six national trade associations, all of which have long-standing financial ties to Monsanto and the other companies selling the dicamba products in question,  filed a brief on Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit urging the court not to try to interfere with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement that farmers could continue to use the dicamba products through July 31.

They also asked the court not to hold the EPA in contempt as has been requested by the groups that won the June 3 court order issuing the ban.

“America’s soybean and cotton growers would risk severe financial harm if prevented from using Dicamba Products this growing season,” states the brief filed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Cotton Council of America, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, and National Sorghum Producers.

Separately, CropLife America, an influential lobbyist for the agrichemical industry, filed a brief  stating it wanted to provide “Helpful Information to the Court.” CropLife stated in the filing that the court has no authority over how the EPA proceeds to cancel the use of pesticide products such as dicamba weed killers.

The moves are but the latest in a dramatic flurry of events that followed the Ninth Circuit ruling, which found that the EPA violated the law when it approved dicamba products developed by Monsanto – owned by Bayer AG, as well as products sold by BASF, and DuPont, owned by Corteva Inc.

The court ordered an immediate ban on use of each of the companies’ products, finding that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” those products pose to farmers growing crops other than genetically engineered cotton and soy.

The EPA appeared to flout the order, however, when it told the cotton and soy farmers they could continue to spray the herbicides in question through July 31.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and other groups that originally took the EPA to court over the matter went back to court last week, demanding that the 9th Circuit hold the EPA in contempt. The court is now considering that motion.

“EPA and the pesticide companies have tried to confuse the issue and try to intimidate the Court,” said George Kimbrell, CFS legal director and counsel for the petitioners. “The Court held the product uses unlawful and EPA’s manipulations cannot change that.”

The order banning the company’s dicamba products has triggered an uproar in farm country because many soybean and cotton farmers planted millions of acres of genetically altered dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto with the intent of treating weeds in those fields with the dicamba herbicides made by the three companies. The crops tolerate the dicamba while the weeds die.

The farm lobby groups said in their brief that 64 million acres were planted with the dicamba-tolerant seeds this season. They said if those farmers cannot spray over their fields with the dicamba products they will be “largely defenseless against weeds resistant to other herbicides, causing
potentially significant financial consequences from yield losses.”

When Monsanto, BASF and DuPont/Corteva rolled out their dicamba herbicides a few years ago they  claimed the products would not volatize and drift into neighboring fields as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances proved false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage.

More than one million acres of crops not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba were reported damaged last year in 18 states, the federal court noted in its ruling.

“The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment…” said National Family Farm Coalition board president Jim Goodman. “Their contempt for this mission could not be more clearly expressed than their flagrant disregard of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling to stop over-the-top applications of dicamba immediately to prevent millions of acres of farmers’ crops from being destroyed.”

In February, a Missouri jury ordered Bayer and BASF to pay a peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages for dicamba damage to the farmer’s orchards. The jury concluded that  Monsanto and BASF conspired in actions they knew would lead to widespread crop damage because they expected it would increase their own profits

Panicked chemical giants seek leeway in court ban on their weed killers

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Citing an “emergency,” chemical giants BASF and DuPont have asked a federal court to allow them to intervene in a case in which the court earlier this month ordered their dicamba herbicides to be immediately banned along with a dicamba product made by Monsanto owner Bayer AG.

The action by the chemical companies follows a June 3 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had violated the law when it approved the dicamba products developed by Monsanto/Bayer, BASF and DuPont, owned by Corteva Inc.

The court ordered an immediate ban on use of each of the company’s dicamba products, finding that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” of the dicamba herbicides and “failed entirely to acknowledge other risks.”

The EPA flouted that order, however, telling farmers they could continue to spray the herbicides in question through the end of July.

The consortium of farm and consumer groups that originally filed the case against the EPA rushed back to court last week, asking for an emergency order holding the EPA in contempt.  The court gave the EPA until the end of the day Tuesday, June 16, to respond.

Uproar in Farm Country

The order banning the companies’ dicamba products has triggered an uproar in farm country because many soybean and cotton farmers planted millions of acres of dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto with the intent of treating weeds in those fields with the dicamba herbicides made by the three companies.

The “dicamba crop system” provides for farmers to plant their fields with dicamba-tolerant crops, which they can then spray “over-the-top” with dicamba weed killer. The system has both enriched the companies selling the seeds and chemicals and and helped farmers growing the special dicamba-tolerant cotton and soy deal with stubborn weeds that are resistant to glyphosate-based Roundup products.

But for the large number of farmers who do not plant the genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant crops, widespread use of dicamba herbicides has meant damage and crop losses because dicamba tends to volatize and drift long distances where it can kill crops, trees and shrubs that are not genetically altered to withstand the chemical.

The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances proved false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage. More than one million acres of crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the federal court noted in its ruling.

Many farmers initially celebrated the court ruling and were relieved that their farms and orchards would be spared this summer from the dicamba damage they’ve experienced in prior summers. But the relief was short-lived when the EPA said it would not immediately enforce the court-ordered ban.

In a filing made Friday, BASF pleaded with the court not to enforce an immediate ban and told the court that it will need to close a manufacturing facility in Beaumont, Texas, that currently “operates 24 hours a day nearly continuously through the year” if it is not able to produce its dicamba herbicide brand called Engenia. BASF has spent $370 million in recent years improving the plant and employs 170 people there, the company said.

Noting “significant investments” in its product, BASF also told the court that there is enough of its product currently throughout its “customer channel” to treat 26.7 million acres of soybeans and cotton.  BASF has an additional $44 million worth of the Engenia dicamba product in its possession, enough to treat 6.6 million acres of soybeans and cotton, the company said.

DuPont/Corteva made a similar argument, telling the court in its filing that the ban “directly harms” the company “as well as the many farmers across this country that are in the midst of the growing season.”  It will damage the company’s “reputation” if its herbicide is banned, the company told the court.

Moreover, DuPont/Corteva expects to generate “significant revenues” from the sales of its dicamba herbicide, called FeXapan and will lose that money if the ban is enforced, the company said.

Monsanto was active in the case supporting the EPA approvals prior to the ruling, but both BASF and DuPont asserted wrongly that the court case applied only to Monsanto’s products and not to theirs. The court made it clear, however, that the EPA illegally approved the products made by all three companies.

Led by the Center for Food Safety,  the petition against the EPA was also brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

In asking the court to find the EPA in contempt, the consortium warned of the crop damage to come if the dicamba products are not banned immediately.

“EPA cannot get away with allowing the spraying of 16 million more pounds of dicamba and resulting damage to millions of acres, as well as significant risks to hundreds of endangered species,” the consortium said in its filing. “Something else is at stake too: the rule of law. The Court must act to prevent injustice and uphold the integrity of the judicial process. And given the blatant
disregard EPA showed for the Court’s decision, Petitioners urge the Court to hold EPA in contempt.”

Dicamba Fact Sheet

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Dicamba (3,6-dichloro-2-methoxybenzoic acid) is a broad-spectrum herbicide first registered in 1967. The herbicide is used on agricultural crops, fallow land, pastures, turfgrass and rangeland. Dicamba is also registered for non-agricultural uses in residential areas and other sites, such as golf courses. At these types of sites, it is primarily used to control broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, chickweed, clover and ground ivy.

Dicamba can be found in liquids, dusts and granule products. There are more than 1,000 products sold in the United States that include dicamba, according to the National Pesticide Information Center.

Dicamba’s mode of action is as an auxin agonist: it produces uncontrollable growth that leads to plant death.

Environmental Concerns 

Older versions of dicamba were known to drift far from where they were applied, and typically were not used widely during warm growing months when they could kill off-target crops or trees.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved the registration of new dicamba formulations in 2016, however, allowing for a new use of – “over-the-top” applications on growing dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean plants. Scientists warned the new uses would result in dicamba drift damage.

The new uses for dicamba came about because of the development of widespread weed resistance to glyphosate-based herbicides, including the popular Roundup brand, introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s. In the 1990s, Monsanto introduced glyphosate-tolerant crops, and encouraged famers to use its “Roundup Ready” cropping systems. Farmers could plant Monsanto’s genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant soybeans, corn, cotton and other crops, and then spray glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup directly over the top of the growing crops without killing them. The system made weed management easier for farmers as they could spray the chemicals directly over their entire fields during the growing season, wiping out weeds that competed with the crops for moisture and soil nutrients.

The popularity of the Roundup Ready system led to a surge in weed resistance, however, leaving farmers with fields of hardy weeds that would no longer die when sprayed with glyphosate.

In 2011 Monsanto announced that glyphosate, had been “relied on too long by itself” and said it planned to collaborate with BASF and develop a cropping system of genetically engineered crops that would tolerate being sprayed with dicamba. It said it would introduce a new type of dicamba herbicide that would not drift far from fields where it was sprayed.

Since the introduction of the new system, complaints about dicamba drift damage have surged in several farm states, including hundreds of complaints from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas.

In a report dated Nov. 1, 2017, the EPA said it had tallied 2,708 official dicamba-related crop injury investigations (as reported by state departments of agriculture). The agency said there were more than 3.6 million acres of soybeans impacted at that time. Other impacted crops were tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, vineyards, pumpkins, vegetables, tobacco, residential gardens, trees and shrubs

In July 2017, the Missouri Department of Agriculture temporarily issued a “Stop Sale, Use or Removal Order,” on all dicamba products in Missouri.  The state lifted the order in September 2017.

These are some dicamba products:

On Oct. 31, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an extension of Engenia, XtendiMax and FeXapan registrations through 2020 for “over-the-top” use in dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean fields. EPA said it had enhanced the previous labels and put in place additional safeguards in an effort to increase the success and safe use of the product in the field.

The two-year registration is valid through Dec. 20, 2020. The EPA has stated the following provisions:

  • Only certified applicators may apply dicamba over-the-top (those working under the supervision of a certified applicator may no longer make applications)
  • Prohibit over-the-top application of dicamba on soybeans 45 days after planting or up until the R1 growth stage (first bloom), whichever comes first
  • Prohibit over-the-top application of dicamba on cotton 60 days after planting
  • For cotton, limit the number of over-the-top applications from four to two
  • For soybeans, the number of over-the-top applications remains at two
  • Applications will be allowed only from one hour after sunrise to two hours before sunset
  • In counties where endangered species may exist, the downwind buffer will remain at 110 feet and there will be a new 57-foot buffer around the other sides of the field (the 110-foot downwind buffer applies to all applications, not just in counties where endangered species may exist)
  • Enhanced tank clean-out instructions for the entire system
  • Enhanced label to improve applicator awareness on the impact of low pH on the potential volatility of dicamba
  • Label clean up and consistency to improve compliance and enforceability

U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit Ruling 

On June 3, 2020. the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the Environmental Protection Agency had violated the law in approving dicamba herbicides make by Bayer, BASF and Corteva Agrisciences. The court overturned the agency’s approval of the popular dicamba-based herbicides made by the three chemical giants. The ruling made it illegal for farmers to continue to use the product.

But the EPA flouted the court ruling, issuing a notice on June 8 that said growers could continue to use the companies’ dicamba herbicides until July 31, despite the fact that the court specifically said in its order that it wanted no delay in vacating those approvals. The court cited damage done by dicamba use in past summers to millions of acres of crops, orchards and vegetable plots across U.S. farm country.

On June 11, 2020, the petitioners in the case filed an emergency motion seeking to enforce the court order and to hold the EPA in contempt.

More details can be found here. 

Food Residues 

Just as glyphosate applications in farm fields have been found to leave residues of glyphosate on and in finished foods, such as oatmeal, breads, cereals, etc., dicamba residues are expected to leave residues in food. Farmers whose produce has been contaminated with dicamba residues via drift have expressed concerns that their products might be rejected or otherwise harmed commercially because of the residue issue.

The EPA has set tolerance levels for dicamba is several grains and for the meat of livestock that consume grains, but not for a variety of fruits and vegetables. A tolerance for dicamba in soybeans is set at 10 parts per million, for instance, in the United States, and a 2 parts per million for wheat grain. Tolerances can be seen here. 

The EPA has issued this statement regarding dicamba residues in food: “EPA performed the analysis required by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and determined that residues on food are “safe” – meaning that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm to people, including all reasonably identifiable subpopulations, including infants and children, from dietary and all other non-occupational exposure to dicamba.”

Cancer and Hypothyroidism 

The EPA states that dicamba is not likely to be carcinogenic, but some studies have found an increased risk of cancer for users of dicamba.

See these studies regarding the human health effects of dicamba:

Dicamba use and cancer incidence in the agricultural health study: an updated analysis International Journal of Epidemiology (05.01.2020) “Among 49 922 applicators, 26 412 (52.9%) used dicamba. Compared with applicators reporting no dicamba use, those in the highest quartile of exposure had elevated risk of liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and decreased risk of myeloid leukaemia.”

Pesticide Use and Incident Hypothyroidism in Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study.  Environmental Health Perspectives (9.26.18)
“In this large prospective cohort of farmers that were occupationally exposed to pesticides, we found that ever-use of four organochlorine insecticides (aldrin, chlordane, heptachlor, and lindane), four organophosphate insecticides (coumaphos, diazinon, dichlorvos, and malathion), and three herbicides (dicamba, glyphosate, and 2,4-D) was associated with increased risk of hypothyroidism.”

Hypothyroidism and pesticide use among male private pesticide applicators in the agricultural health study. Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine (10.1.14)
“The herbicides 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, 2,4,5-TP, alachlor, dicamba, and petroleum oil were all associated with an increased odds of hypothyroidism”

A review of pesticide exposure and cancer incidence in the Agricultural Health Study cohort.  Environmental Heath Perspectives (8.1.10)
“We reviewed 28 studies; most of the 32 pesticides examined were not strongly associated with cancer incidence in pesticide applicators. Increased rate ratios (or odds ratios) and positive exposure–response patterns were reported for 12 pesticides currently registered in Canada and/or the United States (alachlor, aldicarb, carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, dicamba, S-ethyl-N,N-dipropylthiocarbamate, imazethapyr, metolachlor, pendimethalin, permethrin, trifluralin).”

Cancer Incidence among Pesticide Applicators Exposed to Dicamba in the Agricultural Health Study. Environmental Health Perspectives (7.13.06)
“Exposure was not associated with overall cancer incidence nor were there strong associations with any specific type of cancer. When the reference group comprised low-exposed applicators, we observed a positive trend in risk between lifetime exposure days and lung cancer (p = 0.02), but none of the individual point estimates was significantly elevated. We also observed significant trends of increasing risk for colon cancer for both lifetime exposure days and intensity-weighted lifetime days, although these results are largely due to elevated risk at the highest exposure level.”

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Specific Pesticide Exposures in Men: Cross-Canada Study of Pesticides and Health.  Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention (11.01)
“Among individual compounds, in multivariate analyses, the risk of NHL was statistically significantly increased by exposure to the herbicides…dicamba (OR, 1.68; 95% CI, 1.00–2.81); ….In additional multivariate models, which included exposure to other major chemical classes or individual pesticides, personal antecedent cancer, a history of cancer among first-degree relatives, and exposure to mixtures containing dicamba (OR, 1.96; 95% CI, 1.40–2.75)…were significant independent predictors of an increased risk for NHL”

Litigation 

The dicamba drift damage concerns have prompted lawsuits from farmers in many U.S. states. Details on the litigation can be found here.

EPA thumbs nose at court order, says farmers can still use illegal dicamba herbicides

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(UPDATES with comment from BASF)

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday declared it would not immediately honor a court ruling handed down last week that banned certain herbicides made by three of the world’s largest chemical companies.

The move by the EPA amounts to a generous gift to BASF, Bayer and Corteva Agrisciences whose dicamba herbicides were deemed by the court to have been approved by the EPA illegally. The court specifically said in its order issued last week that it wanted no delay in vacating those approvals. The court cited damage done by dicamba use in past summers to millions of acres of crops, orchards and vegetable plots across U.S. farm country.

But the EPA announced Monday that it was issuing a “cancellation order” that would give farmers until July 31 to use existing stocks of Bayer’s Xtendimax, BASF’s Engenia, and Corteva’s FeXapan.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the EPA made multiple errors in approving the dicamba products and came in response to a petition brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), whose lawyers argued the case for petitioners, said in a statement that the EPA’s action was “disingenuous” and “ignores the well-documented and overwhelming evidence of substantial drift harm to farmers from another disastrous spraying season.” The EPA action also ignores the risks dicamba poses to hundreds of endangered species, CFS said.

“The Trump administration is again showing it has no regard for the rule of law. All users that continue to not seek alternatives should be on notice that they are using a harmful, defective, and unlawful product. We will bring the EPA’s failure to abide by the Court’s order to the Court as expeditiously as possible,” CFS said.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue last week urged the EPA to figure out a way around the court ruling, echoing comments by Bayer, BASF and Corteva that called dicamba herbicides important “tools” for farmers growing genetically engineered soybean and cotton.

The EPA said in deciding to allow farmers to continue to use dicamba through the end of July it was responding to “numerous unsolicited phone calls and emails” telling the agency “there is a real concern and potential for devastation to cotton and soybean crops that could result in a crisis for the industry.”

The EPA did not acknowledge the scores of farmers growing crops other than dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton who have suffered crop losses from dicamba drift and fear another summer of crop damage.

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas where it could damage crops, gardens, orchards, and shrubs.

Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, upended that restraint when it launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds a few years ago, encouraging farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops during warm-weather growing months.

Monsanto’s move to create the dicamba-tolerant crops came after its glyphosate-tolerant crops and widespread spraying of glyphosate created an epidemic of weed resistance across U.S. farmland.

Farmers, agricultural scientists and other experts warned Monsanto and the EPA that introducing a dicamba-tolerant system would not only create more herbicide resistance but would lead to devastating damage to crops that are not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.

The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances were proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage in recent years. More than one million acres of dicamba crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the court noted.

In February, a unanimous jury awarded a Missouri peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to be paid by Bayer and BASF for dicamba damage to his property.

In a statement issued after the EPA announcement, BASF  said it supported the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of existing stocks of BASF’s Engenia herbicide through July 31, but said “additional clarity and flexibility” was required.  The company said it had immediately suspended selling and shipping Engenia herbicide after last week’s ruling. 

The company said it  will continue to pursue re-registration of Engenia with the EPA and is assessing its options to pursue legal remedies to challenge the court order.

UPDATED -Court overturns EPA approval of Bayer dicamba herbicide; says regulator “understated the risks”

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(UPDATES with statement from BASF)

In a stunning rebuke of the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal court on Wednesday overturned the agency’s approval of popular dicamba-based herbicides made by chemical giants Bayer, BASF and Corteva Agrisciences. The ruling effectively makes it illegal for farmers to continue to use the product.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” of the dicamba herbicides and “failed entirely to acknowledge other risks.”

“The EPA made multiple errors in granting the conditional registrations,” the court ruling states.

Monsanto and the EPA had asked the court, if it did agree with the plaintiffs, not to immediately overturn the approvals of the weed killing products. The court said simply: “We decline to do so.”

The lawsuit was brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The plaintiffs accused the EPA of breaking the law in evaluating the impacts of a system designed by Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, that has triggered “widespread” crop damage over the last few summers and continues to threaten farms across the country.

“Today’s decision is a massive win for farmers and the environment,” said George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, lead counsel in the case. “It is good to be reminded that corporations like Monsanto and the Trump Administration cannot escape the rule of law, particularly at a time of crisis like this. Their day of reckoning has arrived.”

The court found that among other problems, the EPA “refused to estimate the amount of dicamba damage, characterizing such damage as ‘potential’ and ‘alleged,’ when record evidence showed that dicamba had caused substantial and undisputed damage.”

The court also found that the EPA failed to acknowledge that restrictions it placed on the use of the dicamba herbicides would not be followed,  and it determined that the EPA “entirely failed to acknowledge the substantial risk that the registrations would have anticompetitive economic effects in the soybean and cotton industries.”

Finally, the court said, the EPA entirely failed to acknowledge the risk that the new use of dicamba herbicides set up by Monsanto, BASF and Corteva would “tear the social fabric of farming communities.”

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas where it could damage crops, gardens, orchards, and shrubs.

Monsanto upended that restraint when it launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds a few years ago, encouraging farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops during warm-weather growing months.

Monsanto’s move to create genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant crops came after its glyphosate-tolerant crops and widespread spraying of glyphosate created an epidemic of weed resistance across U.S. farmland.

Farmers, agricultural scientists and other experts warned Monsanto and the EPA that introducing a dicamba-tolerant system would not only create more herbicide resistance but would lead to devastating damage to crops that are not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.

Despite the warnings, Monsanto, along with BASF and Corteva AgriScience all gained approval from the EPA to market new formulations of dicamba herbicides for this widespread type of spraying. The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances have proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage since the introduction of the new dicamba-tolerant crops and the new dicamba herbicides. More than one million acres of crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the court noted.

As predicted, there have been thousands of dicamba damage complaints recorded in multiple states. In its ruling, the court noted that in 2018, out of 103 million acres of soybeans and cotton planted in the United States, about 56 million acres were planted with seeds with Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerance trait, up from 27 million acres the year before in 2017.

In February, a unanimous jury awarded a Missouri peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to be paid by Bayer and BASF for dicamba damage to his property.

Bayer issued a statement following the ruling saying it strongly disagreed with the court ruling and was assessing its options.

“The EPA’s informed science-based decision reaffirms that this tool is vital for growers and does not pose any unreasonable risks of off-target movement when used according to label directions,” the company said. “If the ruling stands, we will work quickly to minimize any impact on our customers this season.”

Corteva also said its dicamba herbicides were needed farmer tools and that it was assessing its options.

BASF called the court order “unprecedented” and said it “has the potential to be devastating to tens of thousands of farmers.”

Farmers could lose “significant revenue” if they are not able to kill weeds in their soybean and cotton fields with the dicamba herbicides, the company said.

“We will use all legal remedies available to challenge this Order,” BASF said.

An EPA spokesman said the agency was currently reviewing the court decision and “will move promptly to address the Court’s directive.”

The court acknowledged the decision could be costly for farmers who have already purchased and/or planted dicamba-tolerant seeds for this season and planned to use the dicamba herbicides on them because the ruling disallows that herbicide use.

“We acknowledge the difficulties these growers may have in finding effective and legal herbicides to protect their (dicamba-tolerant) crops…” the ruling states. “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.”

Dicamba: Farmers fear another season of crop damage; court ruling awaited

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With the turn of the calendar to June, farmers in the U.S. Midwest are wrapping up the planting of new soybean crops and tending to growing fields of young corn plants and vegetable plots. But many are also bracing to be hit by an invisible enemy that has wreaked havoc in farm country the last few summers – the chemical weed killer dicamba.

Jack Geiger, a certified organic farmer in Robinson, Kansas, describes the last few summer growing seasons as characterized by “chaos,” and said he partially lost certification for one field of organic crops due to contamination with dicamba sprayed from afar. Now he is pleading with neighbors who spray the weed killer on their fields to make sure the chemical stays off his property.

“There is dicamba everywhere,” Geiger said.

Geiger is only one of hundreds of farmers around the U.S. Midwest and several southern states who have reported crop damages and losses they claim were caused by drifting dicamba over the last few years.

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas.

That restraint was reversed after Monsanto launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds to encourage farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops. Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer AG, along with BASF and Corteva AgriScience all gained approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to market new formulations of dicamba herbicides for spraying over the tops of growing dicamba-tolerant crops. The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do.

But those assurances have proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage since the introduction of the new dicamba-tolerant crops and the new dicamba herbicides.

A consortium of farmer and consumer groups sued the EPA over its backing of the over-the-top use of the dicamba herbicides and is now awaiting a ruling by the ninth circuit court of appeals in San Francisco regarding their demand that the court overturn the EPA’s approval of the three company’s herbicides. Oral arguments were held in April.

The consumer and environmental groups allege the EPA broke the law by failing to analyze the “significant socioeconomic and agronomic costs to farmers” leading to “catastrophic” levels of crop damage.

The groups say the EPA seems more interested in protecting the business interests of Monsanto and the other companies than in protecting farmers.

Lawyers for Monsanto, representing the company as a unit of Bayer, said the plaintiffs have no credible argument. The company’s new dicamba herbicide, called XtendiMax, “has assisted growers in addressing a significant nationwide weed resistance problem, and soybean and cotton yields have hit record highs nationwide during this litigation,” according to a brief filed by the company’s lawyers on May 29.

“Petitioners’ request for an order immediately halting all sales and uses of the pesticide invites legal error and potentially disastrous real-world impacts,” the company said.

As they await the federal court’s decision, farmers are hoping that new restrictions put in place by some states will protect them. The Illinois Department of Agriculture has advised applicators that they can’t spray after June 20, that they should not spray dicamba products if the temperature is over 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and that they should only apply dicamba when the wind is blowing away from “sensitive” areas. Minnesota, Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota are among other states putting in place cut-off dates for spraying dicamba.

Steve Smith, director of agriculture at Red Gold Inc, the world’s largest canned tomato processor, said even with the state restrictions he is “extremely concerned” about the upcoming season. More acres of being planting with the dicamba-tolerant soybeans developed by Monsanto so it is likely there will be more dicamba being sprayed, he said.

“We’ve worked hard to keep the message out there of not to get close to us, but someone, sometime, is going to make a mistake that could seriously cost us our business,”  he said.

Smith said he is hopeful the court will overturn the EPA approval and “stop this insanity of a system.”

Separately from the potential dicamba damage to crops, new research was recently published showing that farmers exposed to high levels of dicamba appear to have elevated risks of liver and other types of cancer.  Researchers said the new data showed that an association previously seen in the data between dicamba and lung and colon cancers was “no longer apparent” with the updated data.

Dicamba litigation against Bayer, BASF poised to explode, lawyers say

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Thousands of farmers from multiple states are expected to join mass tort litigation pending in federal court over claims that weed-killing products developed by the former Monsanto Co. and other chemical companies are destroying and contaminating crops, including organic production, a group of lawyers and farmers said on Wednesday.

The number of farmers seeking legal representation to file suit against Monsanto and BASF has surged over the last week and a half after a staggering $265 million jury award to a Missouri peach farmer who alleged the two companies were to blame for the loss of his livelihood, according to Joseph Peiffer of the Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane law firm. Peiffer said more than 2,000 farmers are likely to become plaintiffs.

There are already over 100 farmers making claims against the companies that have been combined in multidistrict litigation in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Earlier this month the bellwether trial for that litigation ended with a unanimous jury awarding the family-owned Bader Farms $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages, to be paid by  Bayer AG, the German company that bought Monsanto in 2018, and by BASF.  The jury concluded that  Monsanto and BASF conspired in actions they knew would lead to widespread crop damage because they expected it would increase their own profits.

We now have the road map to get justice for dicamba victims.  The Bader verdict in Missouri sent a clear signal that you can’t profit off of hurting innocent farmers and get away with it,” said Peiffer.  “The crop damage research and increasing farmer complaints forecast a much bigger problem than Monsanto/Bayer and BASF want to admit.”

U.S. Right to Know asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which approved the dicamba herbicides despite scientific evidence of the risks, to provide a national tally for the total number of dicamba drift complaints. But while the EPA said it was taking the reports “very seriously,” it declined to provide a tally and said it was up to state agencies to handle such complaints.

The EPA also indicated it was not certain the damage reported by farmers was, in fact, due to dicamba.

“The underlying causes of the various damage incidents are not yet clear, as on-going investigations have yet to be concluded,” said an EPA spokesperson. “But EPA is reviewing all available information carefully.

“Ticking Time Bomb”

Just as Monsanto and Bayer have been confronted with damning internal documents in losing three trials over claims Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, there are many internal corporate documents discovered in the dicamba litigation that helped convince the jury of the company’s guilt, according to Bader Farms attorney Bill Randles.

Randles has obtained hundreds of internal Monsanto and BASF corporate records demonstrating the companies were aware of the harm their products would create even as they publicly professed the opposite. He said one BASF document referred to dicamba damage complaints as a “ticking time bomb” that “has finally exploded.”

Bader and the other farmers allege that Monsanto was negligent in rolling out genetically engineered cotton and soybeans that could survive being sprayed with dicamba herbicides because it was known that using the crops and chemicals as designed would lead to damage.

Dicamba has been used by farmers since the 1960s but with limits that took into account the chemical’s propensity to drift far from where it was sprayed. When Monsanto’s popular glyphosate weed killing products such as Roundup started losing effectiveness due to widespread weed resistance, Monsanto decided to launch a dicamba cropping system similar to its popular Roundup Ready system, which paired glyphosate-tolerant seeds with glyphosate herbicides.

Farmers buying the new genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds could more easily treat stubborn weeds by spraying  entire fields with dicamba, even during warm growing months, without harming their crops, according to Monsanto, which announced a  dicamba collaboration with BASF in 2011. The companies said their new dicamba herbicides would be less volatile and less prone to drift than old formulations of dicamba. But they refused to allow for independent scientific testing.

The EPA approved the use of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide “XtendiMax” in 2016. BASF developed its own dicamba herbicide that it calls Engenia. Both XtendiMax and Engenia were first sold in the United States in 2017.

DuPont also introduced a dicamba herbicide and could also face multiple farmer lawsuits, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

In their legal claims,  farmers allege that they have experienced damage both from the drift of old versions of dicamba and drifting newer versions as well. The farmers claim that the companies hoped fears of drift damage would force farmers to buy the special GMO dicamba-tolerant seeds in order to protect their cotton and soybean fields.

Farmers growing other types of crops have been without any means to protect their fields.

North Carolina farmer Marty Harper, who grows about 4,000 acres of tobacco as well as peanuts, cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat, and sweet potatoes, said dicamba-related damage to his tobacco fields exceeds  $200,000.  He said part of his peanut crop has also been damaged.

More than 2,700 farms have suffered dicamba damage, according to University of Missouri crop science professor Kevin Bradley.

Chemicals on Our Food: When “Safe” May Not Really Be Safe

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Scientific scrutiny of pesticide residue in food grows; regulatory protections questioned

This article was originally published in Environmental Health News.

By Carey Gillam

Weed killers in wheat crackers and cereals, insecticides in apple juice and a mix of multiple pesticides in spinach, string beans and other veggies – all are part of the daily diets of many Americans. For decades, federal officials have declared tiny traces of these contaminants to be safe. But a new wave of scientific scrutiny is challenging those assertions.

Though many consumers might not be aware of it, every year, government scientists document how hundreds of chemicals used by farmers on their fields and crops leave residues in widely consumed foods. More than 75 percent of fruits and more than 50 percent of vegetables sampled carried pesticides residues in the latest sampling reported by the Food and Drug Administration. Even residues of the tightly restricted bug-killing chemical DDT are found in food, along with a range of other pesticides known by scientists to be linked to a range of illnesses and disease. The pesticide endosulfan, banned worldwide because of evidence that it can cause neurological and reproductive problems, was also found in food samples, the FDA report said.

U.S. regulators and the companies that sell the chemicals to farmers insist that the pesticide residues pose no threat to human health. Most residue levels found in food fall within legal “tolerance” levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), regulators say.

“Americans depend on the FDA to ensure the safety of their families and the foods they eat,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a press release accompanying the agency’s Oct. 1 release of its residue report. “Like other recent reports, the results show that overall levels of pesticide chemical residues are below the Environmental Protection Agency’s tolerances, and therefore don’t pose a risk to consumers.”

The EPA is so confident that traces of pesticides in food are safe that the agency has granted multiple chemical company requests for increases in the allowed tolerances, effectively providing a legal basis for higher levels of pesticide residues to be allowed in American food.

But recent scientific studies have prompted many scientists to warn that years of promises of safety may be wrong. While no one is expected to drop dead from eating a bowl of cereal containing pesticide residues, repeated low level exposures to trace amounts of pesticides in the diet could be contributing to a range of health problems, particularly for children, scientists say.

“There are probably many other health effects; we just haven’t studied them”

A team of Harvard scientists published a commentary in October stating that more research about potential links between disease and consumption of pesticide residues is “urgently needed” as more than 90 percent of the U.S. population has pesticide residues in their urine and blood. The primary route of exposure to these pesticides is through the food people eat, the Harvard research team said.

Several additional Harvard-affiliated scientists published a study earlier this year of women who were trying to get pregnant. The findings suggested that dietary pesticide exposure within a “typical” range was associated both with problems women had getting pregnant and delivering live babies, the scientists said.

“Clearly the current tolerance levels protect us from acute toxicity. The problem is that it is not clear to what extent long-term low-level exposure to pesticide residues through food may or may not be health hazards,” said Dr. Jorge Chavarro, associate professor of the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and one of the study authors.

“Exposure to pesticide residues through diet is associated [with] some reproductive outcomes including semen quality and greater risk of pregnancy loss among women undergoing infertility treatments. There are probably many other health effects; we just haven’t studied them sufficiently to make an adequate risk assessment,” Chavarro said.

Toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, who directs the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), has also raised concerns about pesticide dangers through exposures once assumed to be safe. Last year she called for “an overall reduction in the use of agricultural pesticides” due to multiple concerns for human health, stating that “existing US regulations have not kept pace with scientific advances showing that widely used chemicals cause serious health problems at levels previously assumed to be safe.”

In an interview Birnbaum said that pesticide residues in food and water are among the types of exposures that need greater regulatory scrutiny.

“Do I think that levels that are currently set are safe? Probably not,” said Birnbaum. “We have people of different susceptibility, whether because of their own genetics, or their age, whatever may make them more susceptible to these things,” she said.

“While we look at chemicals one at a time, there is a lot of evidence for things acting in a synergistic fashion. A lot of our standard testing protocols, many that were developed 40 to 50 years ago, are not asking the questions we should be asking,” she added.

Legal doesn’t mean safe

Other recent scientific papers also point to troubling findings. One by a group of international scientists published in May found glyphosate herbicide at doses currently considered “safe” are capable of causing health problems before the onset of puberty. More research is needed to understand potential risks to children, the study authors said.

And in a paper published Oct. 22 in JAMA Internal Medicine, French researchers said that when looking at pesticide residue links to cancer in a study of the diets of more than 68,000 people, they found indications that consumption of organic foods, which are less likely to carry synthetic pesticide residues than foods made with conventionally grown crops, was associated with a reduced risk of cancer.

A 2009 paper published by a Harvard researcher and two FDA scientists found 19 out of 100 food samples that children commonly consumed contained at least one insecticide known to be a neurotoxin. The foods the researchers looked at were fresh vegetables, fruits and juices. Since then, evidence has grown about the harmful human health impacts of insecticides, in particular.

Unacceptable levels

“A number of current legal standards for pesticides in food and water do not fully protect public health, and do not reflect the latest science,” said Olga Naidenko, senior science advisor to the non-profit Environmental Working Group, which has issued several reports looking at potential dangers of pesticides in food and water. “Legal does not necessarily reflect ‘safe,'” she said.

One example of how regulatory assurances of safety have been found lacking when it comes to pesticide residues is the case of an insecticide known as chlorpyrifos. Marketed by Dow Chemical, which became the DowDuPont company in 2017, chlorpyrifos is applied to more than 30 percent of apples, asparagus, walnuts, onions, grapes, broccoli, cherries and cauliflower grown in the U.S. and is commonly found on foods consumed by children. The EPA has said for years that exposures below the legal tolerances it set were nothing to worry about.

Yet scientific research in recent years has demonstrated an association between chlorpyrifos exposure and cognitive deficits in children. The evidence of harm to young developing brains is so strong that the EPA in 2015 said that it “cannot find that any current tolerances are safe.”

The EPA said that because of unacceptable levels of the insecticide in food and drinking water it planned to ban the pesticide from agricultural use. But pressure from Dow and chemical industry lobbyists have kept the chemical in wide use on American farms. The FDA’s recent report found it the 11th most prevalent pesticides in U.S. foods out of hundreds included in the testing.

A federal court in August said that the Trump Administration was endangering public health by keeping chlorpyrifos in use for agricultural food production. The court cited “scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children” and ordered the EPA to revoke all tolerances and ban the chemical from the market. The EPA has yet to act on that order, and is seeking a rehearing before the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

When asked how to explain its changing positions on chlorpyrifos, an agency spokesman said that the EPA “plans to continue to review the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects” of the chemical.

The fact that it is still in wide use frustrates and angers physicians who specialize in child health and leaves them wondering what other pesticide exposures in food might be doing to people.

“The bottom line is that the biggest public health concerns for chlorpyrifos are from its presence in foods,” said Dr. Bradley Peterson director of the Institute for the Developing Mind at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. “Even small exposures can potentially have harmful effects.”

The EPA decision to continue to allow chlorpyrifos into American diets is “emblematic of a broader dismissal of scientific evidence” that challenges human health as well as scientific integrity, according to Dr. Leonardo Trasande, who directs the Division of Environmental Pediatrics within the Department of Pediatrics at New York University’s Langone Health.

Epidemiologist Philip Landrigan, director of Boston College’s Global Public Health initiative, and a former scientist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, is advocating for a ban on all organophosphates, a class of insecticides that includes chlorpyrifos, because of the danger they pose to children.

“Children are exquisitely vulnerable to these chemicals,” said Landrigan. “This is about protecting kids.”

Increased tolerances at industry request

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act authorizes the EPA to regulate the use of pesticides on foods according to specific statutory standards and grants the EPA a limited authority to establish tolerances for pesticides meeting statutory qualifications.

Tolerances vary from food to food and pesticide to pesticide, so an apple might legally carry more of a certain type of insecticide residue than a plum, for instance. The tolerances also vary from country to country, so what the U.S. sets as a legal tolerance for residues of a pesticide on a particular food can – and often is – much different than limits set in other countries. As part of the setting of those tolerances, regulators examine data showing how much residue persists after a pesticide is used as intended on a crop, and they undertake the dietary risk assessments to confirm that the levels of pesticide residues don’t pose human health concerns.

The agency says that it accounts for the fact that the diets of infants and children may be quite different from those of adults and that they consume more food for their size than adults. The EPA also says it combines information about routes of pesticide exposure – food, drinking water residential uses – with information about the toxicity of each pesticide to determine the potential risks posed by the pesticide residues. The agency says if the risks are “unacceptable,” it will not approve the tolerances.

The EPA also says that when it makes tolerance decisions, it “seeks to harmonize U.S. tolerances with international standards whenever possible, consistent with U.S. food safety standards and agricultural practices.”

Monsanto, which became of unit of Bayer AG earlier this year, has successfully asked the EPA to expand the levels of glyphosate residues allowed in several foods, including in wheat and oats.

In 1993, for example, the EPA had a tolerance for glyphosate in oats at 0.1 parts per million (ppm) but in 1996 Monsanto asked EPA to raise the tolerance to 20 ppm and the EPA did as asked. In 2008, at Monsanto’s suggestion, the EPA again looked to raise the tolerance for glyphosate in oats, this time to 30 ppm.

At that time, it also said it would raise the tolerance for glyphosate in barley from 20 ppm to 30 ppm, raise the tolerance in field corn from 1 to 5 ppm and raise the tolerance of glyphosate residue in wheat from 5 ppm to 30 ppm, a 500 percent increase. The 30 ppm for wheat is matched by more than 60 other countries, but is well above the tolerances allowed in more than 50 countries, according to an international tolerance database established with EPA funding and maintained now by a private government affairs consulting group.

“The Agency has determined that the increased tolerances are safe, i.e, there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue,” the EPA stated in the May 21, 2008 Federal Register.

“All these statements from EPA – trust us it’s safe. But the truth is we have no idea if it actually is safe,” said Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a clinician scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute, BC Children’s Hospital, and a professor in the faculty of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Lanphear said that while regulators assume toxic effects increase with dose, scientific evidence shows that some chemicals are most toxic at the lowest levels of exposure. Protecting public health will require rethinking basic assumptions about how agencies regulate chemicals, he argued in a paper published last year.

In recent years both Monsanto and Dow have received new tolerance levels for the pesticides dicamba and 2,4-D on food as well.

Raising tolerances allows farmers to use pesticides in various ways that may leave more residues, but that doesn’t threaten human health, according to Monsanto. In a blog posted last year, Monsanto scientist Dan Goldstein asserted the safety of pesticide residues in food generally and of glyphosate in particular. Even when they exceed the regulatory legal limits, pesticide residues are so minuscule they pose no danger, according to Goldstein, who posted the blog before he retired from Monsanto this year.

About half of foods sampled contained traces of pesticides

Amid the scientific concerns, the most recent FDA data on pesticide residues in food found that roughly half of the foods the agency sampled contained traces of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and other toxic chemicals used by farmers in growing hundreds of different foods.

More than 90 percent of apple juices sampled were found to contain pesticides. The FDA also reported that more than 60 percent of cantaloupe carried residues. Overall, 79 percent of American fruits and 52 percent of vegetables contained residues of various pesticides – many known by scientists to be linked to a range of illnesses and disease. Pesticides were also found in soy, corn, oat and wheat products, and finished foods like cereals, crackers and macaroni.

The FDA analysis “almost exclusively” is focused on products that are not labeled as organic, according to FDA spokesman Peter Cassell.

The FDA downplays the percentage of foods containing pesticide residues and focuses on the percentage of samples for which there is no violation of the tolerance levels. In its most recent report, the FDA said that more than “99% of domestic and 90% of import human foods were compliant with federal standards.”

The report marked the agency’s launch of testing for the weed killer glyphosate in foods. The Government Accountability Office said in 2014 that both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should start regularly testing foods for glyphosate. The FDA did only limited tests looking for glyphosate residues, however, sampling corn and soy and milk and eggs for the weed killer, the agency said. No residues of glyphosate were found in milk or eggs, but residues were found in 63.1 percent of the corn samples and 67 percent of the soybean samples, according to FDA data.

The agency did not disclose findings by one of its chemists of glyphosate in oatmeal and honey products, even though the FDA chemist made his findings known to supervisors and other scientists outside the agency.

Cassell said the honey and oatmeal findings were not part of the agency’s assignment.

Overall, the new FDA report covered sampling done from Oct. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2016, and included analysis of 7,413 samples of food examined as part of the FDA’s “pesticide monitoring program.” Most of the samples were of food to be eaten by people, but 467 samples were of animal food. The agency said that pesticide residues were found in 47.1 percent of the samples of food for people produced domestically and 49.3 percent of food imported from other countries destined for consumer meals. Animal food products were similar, with pesticide residues found in 57 percent of the domestic samples and 45.3 percent of imported foods for animals.

Many imported food samples showed residues of pesticides high enough to break the legal limits, the FDA said. Nearly 20 percent of imported grain and grain product samples showed illegally high levels of pesticides, for example.