Hundreds of Thousands Urge USDA to Stop 'Agent Orange Corn'

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Common Dreams

Hundreds of Thousands Urge USDA to Stop 'Agent Orange Corn'

by
Common Dreams staff

Hundreds of thousands of individuals, organizations and farmers are pushing the USDA to stop the approval of Dow AgroSciences' 2,4-D-resistant corn, dubbed 'Agent Orange corn' by its opponents, who say the product poses a threat to public health and the environment.

The product, officially called 'Enlist,' is a genetically modified crop able to withstand being sprayed with 2,4-D, one of the components of Agent Orange, so that farmers can spray the pesticide to kill weeds without killing the crop.

As the New York Times explains, the 2,4-D-resistant corn was seen as necessary because farmers had overused glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's RoundUp, and the weeds became immune to the pesticide.

Harvest in April

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, underscores the health risks associated with 2,4-D: "Many studies show that 2,4 D exposure is associated with various forms of cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, nerve damage, hormone disruption and birth defects,” she said. “USDA must take these significant risks seriously and reject approval of this crop.”

Others, such as Margot McMillen, an organic farmer in Missouri, noted that by approving Enlist, the USDA would be filling the pockets of chemical makers: “USDA must stand up for those growing America’s food and put their interests, and the public’s, ahead of chemical companies’ profits.”

The product is denounced not only by food safety groups and organic farmers; it is also denounced by conventional farmers whose voice is heard in the Save Our Crops Coalition (SOCC):

“It is the projection of a 1070% increase in the use of 2,4-D that threatens the survival of the specialty crop production in the Midwest. 2,4-D is a threat to growers and processors like us,” said Steve Smith of Red Gold, an Indiana-based food processor, part of SOCC

The short video answering the question, "Why is this technology needed?" on Enlist's own site from Dow AgroSciences inadvertently gives an answer to the question by showing several large fields of nothing but monocultures.

The USDA's public comment period on the corn ends today. Several groups including Pesticide Action Network have petitions to ask the USDA to reject the proposal.

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Reuters: Protesters urge U.S. to scuttle Dow's new GMO corn

Dow wants to roll out Enlist corn, soybeans and cotton along with an Enlist herbicide that are able to survive dousings of a combination of the herbicide 2,4-D with glyphosate. The new chemical aims to wipe out weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate alone.

Dow officials voiced frustration with the activism of opponents. The company said it is trying to educate farmers and others about the benefits of its products, which it said are safe and well tested. [...]

2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) was one of the ingredients in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant that was blamed for numerous health problems suffered during and after the war.

Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for the Organic Center and former executive director of the agriculture board of the National Academy of Sciences, said widespread planting of 2,4-D corn could trigger as much as a 30-fold increase in 2,4-D use on corn by the end of the decade.

Overall 2,4-D use in American agriculture would rise from 27 million pound to more than 100 million pounds and the release of 2,4-D soybeans and cotton following corn would boost usage still more, according to Benbrook.

Several medical and public health professionals have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture warning of health threats that could accompany such an increase in 2,4-D use.

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Food Safety Groups: USDA Receives Over 365,000 Public Comments Opposing Approval of 2,4-D-Resistant, GE Corn

WASHINGTON - April 26 - Over 140 groups and more than 365,000 citizens from across the country are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reject a Dow Chemical application seeking approval of a controversial genetically engineered (GE) corn that is resistant to the hazardous herbicide 2,4-D. In addition to the public comments, 143 farm, environmental, health, fisheries groups and companies will submit a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing their overwhelming opposition to this crop. The comments and letter will be submitted when USDA’s public comment period ends this Friday, April 27.

“American agriculture stands at a crossroads. One path leads to more intensive use of old and toxic pesticides, litigious disputes in farm country over drift-related crop injury, less crop diversity, increasingly intractable weeds, and sharply rising farmer production costs,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “This is the path American agriculture will take with approval of Dow’s 2,4-D resistant corn, soybeans and the host of other new herbicide-resistant crops in the pipeline. Another path is possible, but embarking upon it will take enlightened leadership from USDA.”

According to agricultural scientist Dr. Charles Benbrook, widespread planting of 2,4-D resistant corn could trigger as much as a 30-fold increase in 2,4-D use on corn by the end of the decade, given 2,4-D’s limited use on corn at present. Overall 2,4-D use in American agriculture would rise from 27 million lbs. today to over 100 million lbs. 2,4-D soybeans and cotton would boost usage still more. Yet USDA has provided no analysis of the serious harm to human health, the environment or neighboring farms that would result.

“It’s clear that this new generation of GE herbicide-resistant seeds is the growth engine of the pesticide industry’s sales and marketing strategy,” said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “These seeds are part of a technology package explicitly designed to facilitate increased, indiscriminate herbicide use and pump up chemical sales.”

In addition, 35 medical and public health professionals have signed a letter to USDA warning of the severe health harms that would likely accompany the massive increase in 2,4-D use, expected to accompany approval of the GE seed. “Many studies show that 2,4 D exposure is associated with various forms of cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, nerve damage, hormone disruption and birth defects,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “USDA must take these significant risks seriously and reject approval of this crop.”

American farmers are also rightly concerned that the introduction of 2,4-D resistant corn will threaten their crops. 2,4-D drift is responsible for more episodes of crop injury than any other herbicide. Last week, a coalition representing more than 2,000 farmers and groups filed petitions with the USDA and the EPA, asking USDA to conduct a thorough environmental review before making a decision on approving 2,4-D resistant corn and EPA to convene an advisory panel to examine impacts from increased application of the herbicides.

“Farmers are on the front lines of this potential chemical disaster,” said Iowa conventional corn and soybean farmer George Naylor. “Conventional farmers stand to lose crops while organic farmers will lose both crops and certification, resulting in an economic unraveling of already-stressed rural communities. I’m also very concerned about the further pollution of the air and water in my community.”

“USDA must stand up for those growing America’s food and put their interests, and the public’s, ahead of chemical companies’ profits,” added Margot McMillen, an organic farmer in Missouri. Hers is the message of farmers who are speaking on this issue today at a national telepress conference organized by the National Family Farm Coalition.

Dow’s 2,4-D resistant corn is a clear indication that first-generation GE, herbicide-resistant crops—specifically Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) varieties—are rapidly failing. RR crops, which comprise 84 percent of world biotech plantings, have triggered massive use of glyphosate (Roundup’s active ingredient) and an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds.”

Though Dow claims 2,4-D crops are the solution to weed resistance a recent peer-reviewed study published in the prestigious journal Bioscience concludes that these new GE crops will pour oil on the fire. The study, entitled “Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management,” suggests new GE crops will trigger an outbreak of still more intractable weeds resistant to both glyphosate and 2,4-D.

2,4-D drift and runoff also pose serious risk for environmental harm. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service have found that 2,4-D is likely having adverse impacts on several endangered species, including the California red-legged frog, the Alameda whipsnake, and Pacific salmon, via impacts on their habitats and prey.

“EPA recently denied our petition to ban or control 2,4-D, putting their head in the sand instead of protecting people and plants,” said Mae Wu, a health attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “If USDA now grants Dow’s application, farmers, gardeners, wildlife, and kids will all face even greater exposure to this toxic herbicide.”

If approved, the Center for Food Safety has vowed to challenge USDA’s decision in court, as this novel GE crop provides no public benefit and will only cause serious harm to human health, the environment, and threaten American farms.

The groups submitting public comments to USDA include the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network, Food & Water Watch, Food Democracy Now, the National Family Farm Coalition, Organic Farming Research Foundation, the Organic Consumers Association, SumOfUs.org, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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