You’ve heard of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. It’s deemed a probable carcinogen, and has brought Bayer (Monsanto) to court time and time again over health harms to exposed individuals. You’ve also heard of dicamba, the drift-prone herbicide that has damaged millions of acres of crops over the last few years, for which farmers are just finally beginning to see justice.
And unfortunately, you’re about to become familiar with yet another harmful pesticide that has been quietly approved by EPA while the country is otherwise distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Isoxaflutole is here, and it’s bad.
Stuck on the treadmill
Isoxaflutole, manufactured by the German agrichemical giant BASF, combines the worst of glyphosate and dicamba — it’s a weedkiller EPA itself has determined is likely to cause cancer and drift hundreds of feet from where it is applied.
The introduction of isoxaflutole is the next step in the endless cycle of destruction that is the pesticide treadmill, in which agrichemical companies market new chemical formulations, oftentimes stronger and more harmful, to combat weeds that have developed resistance to herbicides that have been used on them in the past.
An added bonus? Big Ag has found its replacement for glyphosate and dicamba, which are in hot water right now with lawsuit after lawsuit cropping up and plaintiffs actually winning in court.
One side silenced
It was likely an easy feat for BASF to slip this contentious chemical through EPA’s approval process. The agency had already indicated they would not be prioritizing public and environmental health when they announced they would be suspending enforcement of protective laws during the COVID-19 crisis, and it didn’t take long until we saw this terribly misguided policy in practice.
EPA approved isoxaflutole for use in 25 states by sidestepping the usual public input process for the decision. The herbicide’s registration was opened for public comment, but not listed in the federal register. Scientists shared that the press release EPA issued around the approval caught everyone off guard, as they were waiting for the comment period to open and never got word that it already had.
However, despite scientists being unaware the comment period was open, 54 comments were in the public register, and all of them were in praise of the Alite 27 herbicide product in which isoxaflutole is the active ingredient. Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity said:
"Clearly no one from the public health community knew about this because no one commented, yet there were all these industry comments, all these positive comments. Someone was tipped off that this docket had been opened. One side was able to comment, the other wasn't."
We’re watching you, EPA
EPA did enact a few limitations in the approval of the herbicide, only allowing use in certain counties in 25 states, and barring use in Indiana and Illinois which are the two largest soybean-production states in the U.S. However, this is a chemical that should not have been approved at all, especially not in the midst of a pandemic without proper public input.
The last thing we need is another glyphosate, another dicamba, another toxic chemical that will wreak havoc on public health and farmer livelihoods. Especially right now, as we face the hardships of a global pandemic. PAN and our partners are continuing to keep a close eye on EPA’s movements in this moment.