The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a petition to ban the sale of the 2,4-D pesticide, a major ingredient in the Vietnam-era defoliant 'Agent Orange'. Despite its current widespread availability, use of 2,4-D could skyrocket soon because its main manufacturer, Dow Chemical, is hoping to receive approval to sell genetically modified corn seeds that are resistant to 2,4-D.
The decision from the EPA came in response to a lawsuit from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in January of this year, who filed the suit after the EPA refused to respond to a petition the environmental group first submitted in 2008.
“This dangerous pesticide is lurking all over the place – from ball fields and golf courses, to front lawns and farms – exposing an enormous amount of the American public to cancer and other serious health risks,” NRDC senior scientist Dr. Gina Solomon said, during the announcement of the move in January. “There’s no reason to continue allowing a toxic Agent Orange-ingredient in the places our children play, our families live and our farmers work. EPA must step up and finally put a stop to it.”
The EPA's decision on Monday, however, rejected the idea that 2,4-D was a health or "safety" threat, and even pointed to a Dow Chemical conducted study to support their decision.
The Center for Food Safety, who worked alongside NRDC to push the ban, expressed deep concern for the increased use of 2,4-D if Dow's new corn seeds are approved. “Dow’s ‘Agent Orange’ corn will trigger a large increase in 2,4-D use—and our exposure to this toxic herbicide—yet USDA has not assessed how much, nor analyzed the serious harm to human health, the environment or neighboring farms,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “This novel corn will foster resistant weeds that require more toxic pesticides to kill, followed by more resistance and more pesticides—a chemical arms race in which the only winners are pesticide/biotechnology firms.”
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The New York Times reports:
[NRDC] cited various studies suggesting that exposure to 2,4-D could cause cancer, hormone disruption, genetic mutations and neurotoxicity. It also said the E.P.A., in previous assessments, had underestimated how much people, especially children, might be exposed to the chemical through dust, breast milk and skin contact.
In its ruling, the E.P.A. said that while some studies cited suggested that high doses of the chemical could be harmful, they did not establish lack of safety, and in some cases they were contradicted by other studies.
The agency in particular cited a study, financed by the 2,4-D manufacturers and conducted by Dow, in which the chemical was put into the feed of rats. The study did not show reproductive problems in the rats or problems in their offspring that might be expected if 2,4-D were disrupting hormone activity, the E.P.A. said.
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Center for Food Safety: The Danger of 'Agent Orange' Corn
If approved, millions of acres of “Agent Orange” corn could be planted as early as next year, raising concern for its adverse health impacts. 2,4-D was one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used by the U.S. in the Vietnam War. Agent Orange was contaminated with dioxins, a group of highly toxic chemical compounds, which are responsible for a host of serious medical conditions—from diabetes to cancer to birth defects—in Vietnam veterans as well as Vietnamese and their children. Industry’s own tests show that 2,4-D is still contaminated with dioxins.
“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 Dr. Amy Dean, an internal medicine physician and president-elect of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. “Because it poses significant health risk, exposure should not be increased, but significantly reduced to protect the public’s health.”
2,4-D drift and runoff also pose serious risk for environmental harm. Because it is such a potent plant-killer, 2,4-D can harm animals by killing the plants they depend on for habitat and food. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries Service have found that 2,4-D is likely having adverse impacts on several endangered species, even now. 2,4-D is currently used to control weeds primarily in cereal grains and lawns. Its use in corn has been extremely limited. USDA’s approval of 2,4-D resistant GE corn will increase the overall use of this toxic herbicide, worsening these impacts and likely placing many other species at risk.
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. “In my experience, 2,4-D is an herbicide that can and does drift considerable distances to damage neighboring crops,” said Indiana farmer Troy Roush. “We can expect greatly increased use of 2,4-D with Dow’s new corn, and that could wreak havoc with soybeans, tomatoes and other crops my neighbors and I grow.”
The advent of Dow’s 2,4-D resistant corn is a clear indication that first-generation genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant crops—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 weeds. These resistant “superweeds” are regarded as one of the major challenges facing American agriculture.
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