Despite widespread opposition from food safety, environmental and watchdog groups, as well as health professionals and concerned consumers, the USDA has paved the way for the commercial use of genetically engineered crops dubbed "Agent Orange" corn and soybeans.
In its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released Friday, the agency said that its "preferred" option for Dow AgroSciences' "Enlist" corn and soybean, genetically engineered (GE) to be resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D, is to deregulate them.
2,4-D, the third most widely used herbicide in the U.S., is made by Dow Chemical, and was a component of Agent Orange. The herbicide has been linked to Parkinson's, birth defects, reproductive problems, and endocrine disruption.
Critics say that green-lighting these two genetically engineered crops will expand the use of toxic herbicides at the expense of public and environmental health, while padding the coffers of he pesticide industry.
"'Agent Orange crops' are designed to survive a chemical assault with 2,4-D. They will increase the use of toxic pesticides in industrial agriculture while providing absolutely no benefit to consumers," said Center for Food Safety executive director Andrew Kimbrell.
Some see a cautionary tale from Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops, which led to an increased use of glyphosate and the creation of "super weeds."
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"USDA is propelling American agriculture further down a path of increased dependence on older, more toxic pesticides."
—Patty Lovera, Food and Water Watch"When Dow Chemical and Monsanto first brought out GE crops, they assured us their new, expensive seeds would clean up our environment and reduce pesticide use. That didn’t happen," said Iowa corn and soybean farmer George Naylor. "Today weeds are resistant to Roundup and many farmers are using older, more deadly pesticides to kill them. 2,4-D corn and soybeans just keep us on the same old pesticide treadmill; it’s a terrible idea."
This "pesticide treadmill" means profits for the industry.
"GE herbicide-resistant seeds are clearly the growth engine powering the pesticide industry," stated Pesticide Action Network senior scientist, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman. "These seeds are part of a technology package explicitly designed to drive up herbicide sales."
Critics also charge that the likely approval means the USDA is abdicating its duty to the American public.
"By continuing to rubber-stamp its approval of Dow and Monsanto’s latest products, USDA has abandoned its responsibility to safeguard American farmers’ crops, health and livelihoods," Ishii-Eiteman added.
The likely approval of the crops, said Food & Water Watch assistant director Patty Lovera, means the "USDA is propelling American agriculture further down a path of increased dependence on older, more toxic pesticides."