The proposed farm bill could nullify bans by Arkansas and other states on dicamba, the pesticide that damaged an estimated 3.6 million acres of soybeans across the country.
The House Agriculture Committee whose members have received more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the pesticide industry since 2012, approved the bill, H.R. 2, on a voice vote. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the committee chairman and the recipient of $117,000 from the pesticide industry and its trade association, CropLife America, hopes to bring the bill to the full House in May.
“Part of this process on timing on the floor will be dictated by how well I’m able to sell this to my colleagues,” Conaway said.
Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the bill would overturn Supreme Court rulings and prohibit local governments from adopting pesticide laws that are more protective than federal rules.
“It appears to be retroactive,” said Olson, director of the council’s health program.
Dicamba has been around for decades, but its use was limited because the chemical evaporates easily, particularly at higher temperatures, and drifts, damaging plants in field that have not been sprayed with the chemical.
Three chemical companies, Monsanto, DowDuPont and BASF, developed what they claimed were “low-volatility” versions of dicamba that didn’t evaporate so easily. Monsanto genetically altered soybeans and cotton to better tolerate dicamba, an approach it had also used for Roundup.
In 2017, farmers planted dicamba-tolerant crops on 26 million acres, but the new versions of dicamba also drifted, damaging neighboring soybean fields, vegetables and orchards. The worst damage was in Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee.
Monsanto claims the damage was because farmers didn’t follow directions on the pesticide label in spraying. The company sued Arkansas regulators, claiming the ban was based on “unsubstantiated theories regarding product volatility that are contradicted by science.”
Local restrictions on pesticides were upheld in a 1991 unanimous Supreme Court decision.
“States’ historic powers are not superseded by federal law unless that is the clear and manifest purpose of Congress,” wrote Justice Byron R. White.
The high court ruled that the federal law regulating pesticides, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, did not preempt local governments regulating pesticides.
The case, Wisconsin Public Intervenor v. Mortier was about Casey, Wis., a town of 404 in rural northwest Wisconsin that required permit to apply pesticides on public lands, aerial spraying of private lands, and private land that could have public uses. Landowner Ralph Mortier challenged the town’s 1985 ordinance.