(Beyond Pesticides, January 5, 2017) Winegrowers in the Texas High Plains region are concerned that approval of new herbicides by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will devastate their profitable industry due to chemical damage from pesticide drift. Wine producers in this region of Texas have witnessed chemical damage to their vineyards that they blame on the toxic herbicides, dicamba and 2,4-D, used on cereal crops and pastures on surrounding agricultural land. A new herbicide formulation containing dicamba, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, was approved by EPA, and the agency has recently proposed to register and expand the use of Enlist Duo, a herbicide that contains 2,4-D. EPA’s final decision on registration of Enlist Duo is expected in early 2017.
According to Paul Bonarrigo, owner of Messina Hof Winery in Texas, the “approval of these formulations will wind up affecting every vineyard up there.” This will have ramifications across Texas, as the wine industry contributed $1.88 billion to the state’s economy in 2013. Advocates say that the new herbicide formulations present unreasonable adverse risks to humans and the environment in addition to harming the livelihood of farmers.
Following on these concerns, Garrett Irwin, owner of Cerro Santo vineyard, stated,“If we get the levels of damage that I’m afraid we’ll get, vineyards will not be able to recover or produce grapes at any sustainable level, and we’re just going to have to go away.”
The recently registered formulation of dicamba, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, developed by Monsanto, is used in the production of genetically engineered (GE) cotton and soybean crops. Dicamba has been linked to kidney and liver damage, neurotoxicity, and developmental impacts, and has been at the center of many recent controversies. In August, farmers in Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee confronted widespread crop damage and braced for lower yields as a result of agrichemical giant Monsanto’s botched roll-out of GE soybean and cotton crops. The company, whose herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) is failing to control weeds in its glyphosate-tolerant crops throughout the U.S. and across the globe, developed a new line of soybean and cotton with traits that make it tolerate applications of dicamba. In October, EPA launched a criminal investigation at several locations in Missouri into the illegal spraying of dicamba, which resulted in drift and off-site damages.
Developed by Dow AgroSciences (Dow), Enlist Duo is an herbicide that incorporates a mix of glyphosate and a new formulation of 2,4-D, intended for use on GE Enlist-Duo-tolerant corn and soybean crops. In addition to Enlist Duo’s widespread use on corn and soybeans, EPA has proposed extending its use on GE-cotton and expanding its approval to 19 additional states. This herbicide has been marketed as a “solution” for the control of glyphosate-resistant weeds brought on by the widespread use of the chemical on Roundup Ready crops over the last decade that has led to super-weeds.
But even if farmers using these toxic herbicides follow the label instructions, there is high likelihood of drift from changing wind direction or speed, and temperature or humidity fluctuations. Claims of Enlist Duo’s lower volatility has limited application to field realities, given different environmental and application variables that play a part in whether the chemical will remain on site or travel off site. And, according to Garrett Irwin, “Complaints about drift damage from off-label spraying filed with the department are fruitless. The department usually responds to complaints by sending a field expert to assess the damage and interview neighbors about the herbicides they use, but neighbors who unlawfully spray are almost never investigated.”
The problem facing Texan winegrowers is not unique to grapes. Pesticide drift is an inevitable problem of pesticide application, and drift and subsequent crop injury to broadleaf crops has been a frequent problem. Abnormal leaf growth, floral development, reduced yield, and reduced quality have all been observed from dicamba drift in particular. A study published by Pennsylvania State scientists in late 2015 found dicamba drift was “frequently responsible for sublethal, off-target damage” to plants and insects. Historically, to mitigate against potential risks from pesticide drift, EPA has required buffer zones and application restrictions. However, these have not been sufficient to alleviate off-site crop damage and environmental contamination. Additionally, as demonstrated with these incidents, there are challenges with pesticide product label compliance and enforcement.
Beyond Pesticides has long advocated a regulatory approach that prohibits hazardous chemical use and requires alternative assessments to identify less toxic practices and products under the unreasonable adverse effects clause of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Farm, beekeeper, and environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, have urged EPA to follow in the steps of countries like Canada and the European Union by following the precautionary principle, which generally approves products after they have been assessed for harm, not before. Beyond Pesticides suggests an approach that rejects uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, and instead focuses on safer alternatives that are proven effective, such as organic agriculture, which prohibits the use of toxic chemicals. By strengthening on-farm resources, such as soil fertility, pasture and biodiversity, organic farmers can minimize and even avoid the production challenges that most genetically engineered organisms have been falsely-marketed as solving.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.