ByChristopher Walljasper and Ramiro Ferrando/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
Farmers have been using the weed killer glyphosate – a key ingredient of the product Roundup – at soaring levels even as glyphosate has become increasingly less effective and as health concerns and lawsuits mount.
ByPam Dempsey/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
Glyphosate is the most used pesticide on U.S. agricultural crops, with the nation using an estimated 287 million pounds in 2016, according to an analysis by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. And sales continue to grow, with market researchers predicting the glyphosate market to grow to $8.5 billion to $10 billion annually by 2021 up from $5 billion now. READ ALSO: Controversial Pesticide Use Increases Dramatically Across The Midwest
Of 400 pesticides used on agriculture crops across the U.S, glyphosate is used at least three times more than all others, according to an analysis of data estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey. The second-most used weed killer in the U.S. is atrazine – with 75.4 million pounds used on U.S. agriculture crops in 2016. In 2016, the Midwest used 65 percent of the nation’s total agriculture glyphosate use on crops.
ByJohnathan Hettinger/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
A volatile weed killer linked to cancer and endocrine issues will likely be sprayed on millions more acres of soybeans and cotton across the Midwest and South starting this year. In January, China approved imports of a new genetically modified soybean variety – Enlist E3 soybeans jointly made by Corteva Agriscience, a division of DowDupont and seed company MS Technologies– that can withstand the herbicide 2,4-D. “This is great news for U.S. soybean growers,” said Joseph Merschman, president of MS Technologies in a February press release. “This announcement clears the way for even more soybean growers to experience the high-yielding elite genetics and exceptional weed control offered by the Enlist E3™ soybean system.”
DowAgrosciences declined to comment for this story. The herbicide – 2,4-D – was one of the active ingredients in Agent Orange and has been shown to drift miles away from where it’s applied.
A bill has been introduced in the Iowa Legislature that would increase the fee for a three-year public or private pesticide application certification from $15 to $30 and designate money raised from those fees to the state’s pesticide and administration fund. The fee for commercial applicators would remain at $75. The bill was introduced Feb. 25 and passed its first subcommittee hurdle two days later. It came a month after an IowaWatch story about how recommendations for investigating Iowa’s pesticide application, made by the Iowa State Auditor’s office in a 2012 audit and subsequent reports, had not been addressed.
Last year, according to a University of Missouri survey, dicamba damaged an estimated 3.6 million acres of soybeans across 25 states when it drifted from farms planted with seeds genetically engineered to resist the chemical onto regular soybean fields.
Some farmers applying pesticides to fields this summer might ignore symptoms of being exposed to the chemicals, like headaches or nausea. But mounting evidence shows chronic exposure to pesticides may increase risks for certain cancers, like prostate cancer, and for other chronic illnesses, like Parkinson’s and thyroid disease.
Iowa’s wide expanses of row-cropped fields produced roughly 2.5 billion bushels of corn and 554 million bushels of soybeans in 2015. And for many, those high yields are thanks in part to pesticides. But what impact, if any, do those chemicals have on our health? It’s a controversial topic and the answer is hard to pin down. In many cases, those we spoke with said the jury is still out.