Latest Major Threat to Bees and Trees

bees

Story at-a-glance -

  • Three states — Iowa, Illinois and Tennessee — have received complaints that dicamba may be damaging oak trees
  • With increasing numbers of farmers adopting dicamba-resistant crops, there is concern that it could seriously impact bees and other pollinators in the area
  • If nearly all farmers in any given area plant dicamba-resistant crops, the use of dicamba will increase; dicamba is prone to drifting and may damage nearby vegetation that pollinators feed on

By Dr. Mercola

Systemic neonicotinoid pesticides have made recent headlines for their association with bee deaths, while glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, has also been the topic of much debate following the International Agency for Research on Cancer's (IARC) 2015 declaration that the chemical is a probable human carcinogen. A relative newcomer to the scene is dicamba, but it's quickly earning a similarly ominous reputation as the former two.

Dicamba has been used by farmers for decades, but the release of Monsanto's Roundup Ready Xtend cotton and soybeans — genetically engineered (GE) plants designed to tolerate both glyphosate and dicamba — prompted its use to become more widespread, as well as used in a different way, now sprayed over the top of the GE cotton and soy, where it could easily volatilize and drift onto nearby fields.1

Monsanto sold dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds to farmers before the herbicide designed to go with them (which is supposedly less prone to drifting) had gotten federal approval. In 2016, when farmers sprayed their new GE crops with older, illegal formulas of dicamba, and it drifted over onto their neighbors' non-dicamba-resistant crops, devastating crop damage was reported in 10 states.2

Newer dicamba formulations are supposedly less prone to drifting, but this hasn't stopped the onslaught of reports of dicamba damage. As of August 2017, an estimated 3.1 million acres across the eastern half of the United States had been damaged by dicamba drift,3 and there's also disturbing information that the chemical is harming trees.

Dicamba Causing Widespread Damage to Oak Trees, Pitting Farmers Against Each Other

Three states — Iowa, Illinois and Tennessee — have received complaints that dicamba may be damaging oak trees. According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting:4

  • Iowa's Department of Natural Resources has received more than 1,000 complaints that oak trees have been damaged by pesticides, including dicamba
  • Retired biologist and former researcher at the University of Illinois, Lou Nelms, has made numerous complaints with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources that dicamba is damaging oak trees throughout the state
  • Oak trees and bald cypress near Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake, a state park, have also shown signs of dicamba damage

Both Monsanto and BASF manufacture dicamba. Monsanto has blamed crop damage on misapplication and has attempted to skirt the blame for oak-tree damage by blaming other pesticides, according to internal company emails.5 Meanwhile, dicamba use is turning farmers against one another, as those experiencing damaged crops blame neighboring farms that sprayed dicamba.

In November 2016, a dispute over dicamba drift turned deadly, when Arkansas soybean and cotton farmer Mike Wallace was allegedly fatally shot by another farmer.

"The damaged crops have pitted farmer against farmer and strained relationships in the region, especially in light of the fact that insurance companies won't compensate farmers for losses caused by wrongful or 'off label' herbicide applications due to drift," Modern Farmer reported.6 Typically, farmers spraying dicamba claim they used the chemical according to label instructions and will not accept responsibility for neighboring damage.

How Dicamba-Resistant Crops Could Devastate Bees

Arkansas grower Tom Burnham reported to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he estimates about half of the region's dicamba-resistant crops were planted solely by farmers hoping to prevent the damage they suffered last year among their nonresistant crops. In a letter to the state plant board, he continued, "I feel that the need to plant a technology to protect your crop from off-target movement is tantamount to extortion."7

With increasing numbers of farmers adopting dicamba-resistant crops, there is concern that it could seriously impact bees and other pollinators in the area. If nearly all farmers in any given area plant dicamba-resistant crops, NPR reported:8

"[T]he resulting free-fire zone for dicamba could be bad news for other vegetation, such as wildflowers and trees. The wider ecological impact of dicamba drift received little attention at first. Richard Coy, whose family-run company manages 13,000 beehives in Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri, was one of the few people who noticed it. 'If I were not a beekeeper, I would pay no attention to the vegetation in the ditches and the fence rows,' he says. But his bees feed on that vegetation."

Coy has noticed that dicamba drift has stopped vegetation from blooming, which means bees and other pollinators have access to less pollen. Honey production in regions where dicamba is sprayed is down about one-third, and Coy expects to have to move his beehives if dicamba spraying continues, he told NPR.9

US EPA Votes to Allow Dicamba Spraying, Use Expected to Double

While Arkansas, which has received hundreds of complaints from farmers whose crops were damaged by dicamba drifting over from neighboring farms,10 has voted to ban most dicamba spraying in the state in 2018 (although it still hasn't been finalized), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it will continue to allow its use on Monsanto's dicamba-tolerant soy and corn.

It added a few new restrictions, such as requiring special training to apply the herbicide, restricting its application when wind speeds are greater than 10 mph and asking farmers to assess the risk that spraying could have on nearby crops; however, the decision will amount to an economic windfall for Monsanto and a major blow to the environment.

It's expected that, as a result of the EPA's green light, planting of dicamba-tolerant soy will double in 2018, reaching about 40 million acres in the U.S.11 While Monsanto was thrilled about the news, saying they were "very excited" about it, "The new restrictions on dicamba use … do not appear to address the problem of 'volatilization,'" NPR reported, continuing:12

"Many independent scientists say that this vapor drift was a major cause of damage to neighboring fields this summer. Last year, Missouri did impose most of the restrictions that the EPA is set to require, and farmers in the state still saw widespread damage from drifting dicamba."

Monsanto, meanwhile, is already facing a slew of lawsuits over their dicamba-tolerant crops and resulting dicamba-damaged crops nearby, but is still set to enjoy the profits not only of farmers buying their GE seeds because they want to, but also those buying them out of fear of what will happen if they don't. NPR quoted Arkansas farmer Brent Henderson, who is among the latter:13

"If it's going to be legal to use and neighbors are planting it, I'm going to have to plant [dicamba-tolerant soybeans] to protect myself … It's very annoying. It's a property rights issue. My neighbor should not dictate what I do on my farm."

Even in the fourth quarter, which falls between planting seasons and therefore typically may show a small loss for Monsanto, the company reported a profit, thanks to "some nice licensing deals," an Edward Jones analyst reported.14

Monsanto CEO Touts Doing Good in the World While Studies About Glyphosate Toxicity Roll In

This all makes Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant's statement to Fortune all the more egregious. When asked whether he thought it was possible to make profits and still do the right thing and do good in the world, Grant said his answer is "an unquestionable yes" and doing business this way would become "a norm rather than the exception" in the future.15 Yet, Monsanto's products continue to threaten the very future of humanity.

One of the latest studies, from the European Commission's Joint Research Center and two Dutch laboratories, revealed that 45 percent of Europe's topsoil contains glyphosate residue.16 Twenty-one percent of soil samples contained glyphosate while 42 percent contained aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), glyphosate's main metabolite. Eighteen percent of the samples contained both.

In a press release, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe explained that concentrations of glyphosate and AMPA found in the study have been shown to harm earthworms, beneficial bacteria and fungi in the soil, while weakening plant defenses and increasing their vulnerability to pathogens. PAN Europe's ecotoxicologist Angeliki Lyssimachou further explained:17

"This study clearly contradicts the predictions of European Authorities that glyphosate does not persist in the environment. In fact, European agriculture is highly reliant on a toxic substance that is not even properly regulated in the EU, putting everyone at risk. Policy makers must stop the use of these harmful chemicals in the production of our food. It is more than time to implement all existing non-chemical alternatives to herbicides."

Cornell University researchers also recently revealed that glyphosate damages Pseudomonas, a type of beneficial bacteria in soil that stimulates plant growth and antifungals to help protect plants.18

In particular, Pseudomonas putida, which some farmers use to help control soil fungus, exposure to glyphosate led to stunted growth. "[I]f the farmer uses Pseudomonas putida to control the fungus in the soil," Ludmilla Aristilde, assistant professor of biological and environmental engineering, told Sustainable Pulse, "then glyphosate is more likely to prevent the bacteria from doing its job."19

Monsanto Manipulation Mirrors Big Tobacco's

Former Reuters reporter Carey Gillam has written a revealing book on Monsanto's long-term and continuing corruption of science, titled "Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science."

She details the approximately 3,000 plaintiffs in the U.S. who believe exposure to glyphosate caused their, or a loved one's, cancer, while Monsanto knew it was toxic and covered up the evidence. Court-ordered unsealed documents have revealed that Monsanto scientists ghost-wrote studies to clear glyphosate's name and even hired a scientist to persuade the EPA to change its cancer classification decision on the chemical.20

Gillam also told Corporate Crime Reporter that Monsanto would bully journalists who dared to go against the "corporate narrative" 21 and describes the company's ongoing manipulation of science and the press, and the revolving door that keeps Monsanto in control of government regulations.

With the manipulation that continues to come to the surface, it echoes the tactics used by Big Tobacco. "Attorneys and activists have accused Monsanto of manipulating the science around glyphosate's health impacts — in essence, of following the playbook written by Big Tobacco," The Nation noted.22

Slashing Pesticide Use Is Necessary to Save the Environment, Feed the World

"The reduction of pesticide use is one of the critical drivers to preserve the environment and human health," according to recent research published in Nature Plants,23 and I couldn't agree more. What many people don't realize is that research shows 59 percent of farmers could cut pesticide usage by 42 percent without harming their production. Forty percent of these farms would even improve their production as a result.24

The findings are eye-opening, especially since the pesticide industry has long maintained that their products are necessary to feed the world. Worldwide, an estimated 7.7 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops each year, and that number is steadily increasing.25 Yet, the problems are becoming too big to ignore.

Glyphosate-resistant superweeds like pigweed are now driving farmers to seek out dicamba-resistant crops, but dicamba-resistant weeds have already sprouted in Kansas and Nebraska, raising serious doubts that piling more pesticides on crops will help farmers.

Crop rotation, mechanical weeding, planting of cover crops and other nonchemical forms of pest control were mentioned as ways that farmers could successfully lessen pesticide use. The major barrier at this time appears to be education. Fortunately, some farmers are moving toward regenerative, soil-friendly agriculture anyway, with promising results.

Planting a variety of crops is key toward restoring soil health and ultimately feeding the world, as is reducing pesticide usage. You can play your own part by reducing the use of chemical pesticides in your home and garden and supporting organic farmers. Eating organic as much as possible and investing in a good water filtration system for your home are also important and are among the best ways to lower your exposure to glyphosate and other pesticides.

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