"Agent Orange" Corn: Biotech Only Winner in Chemical Arms Race as Herbicide Resistant Crops Fail | Civil Eats

“Agent Orange” Corn: Biotech Only Winner in Chemical Arms Race as Herbicide Resistant Crops Fail

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently deciding whether or not to approve an application by Dow Chemical for its controversial genetically engineered (GE) corn variety that is resistant to the highly toxic herbicide 2,4-D, one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange.

Today, the USDA extended the public comment period on this issue until the end of April 2012, largely due to pressure from the Center for Food Safety (CFS), the nation’s leading organization in the fight to regulate GE crops, and other allied organizations and groups. If approved, CFS 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.

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. This GE corn will foster rapid evolution of 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 (aka biotechnology) firms.

The advent of Dow’s 2,4-D resistant corn is a clear indication that first-generation GE, 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.

2,4-D corn is only the first of many new herbicide-resistance crops being developed by the biotechnology industry to usher in a new era of increased chemical use that represents a very significant opportunity for Dow, Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, and Syngenta. These “biotechnology” companies are actually pesticide firms that have acquired a large portion of the world’s seed supply, and they use biotechnology to create synergies between their seed and pesticide divisions.  In short, biotechnology = pesticide + seeds. One indication of this is that nearly two-thirds of GE crops pending approval by our USDA (13 of 20) are herbicide-resistant.

Dow now falsely suggests that 2,4-D crops (2,4-D soybeans and cotton are also under development) are the solution to weed resistance.  Far from solving the problem, however, a peer-reviewed study recently published in the prestigious journal Bioscience, entitled “Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management,” suggests that these new GE crops will foster a huge increase in 2,4-D use, and thereby pour oil on the fire, triggering an outbreak of still more intractable weeds resistant to both glyphosate and 2,4-D. This study validates similar findings made by CFS in a 2008 report and in Congressional testimony on resistant weeds in 2010.

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, golf courses and lawns. Its use in corn has been extremely limited. USDA’s approval of 2,4-D resistant GE corn will sharply 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 pesticide.  As Indiana farmer Troy Roush told me: “In my experience, 2,4-D is an herbicide that can and does drift considerable distances to damage neighboring crops. 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.”

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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 cancerParkinson’s Diseasenerve damagehormone disruption and birth defects, according to Dr. Amy Dean, an internal medicine physician and President-Elect of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. Dr. Dean believes that because it poses significant health risk, exposure should not be increased, but significantly reduced to protect the public’s health.

USDA’s public comment period on 2,4-D resistant corn is open until April 27, 2012. Tell USDA that you don’t want “Agent Orange” corn. Comments may be submitted to the agency through our action link at: http://bit.ly/AgentOrangeCorn. For more information on 2,4-D corn, see our two-page fact sheet and more extensive Food Safety Review.

Originally published on Huffington Post

Photo: Field corn by Shutterstock

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Andrew Kimbrell became Executive Director of the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) in 1994 and is also Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety, which he co-founded in 1997. He is one of the country's leading environmental attorneys and the author of books on the environment, technology and society, and food issues; his most recent is "Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food" (2006). In 1994, the Utne Reader named Kimbrell as one of the world's leading 100 visionaries. Read more >

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  1. Liz Espy
    It's time for greed to stop making the decisions in this country. For ONCE consider the unknown effects it will have on people and future crops.
  2. John Miksa
    This is absolutely nuts. What part of this is not screaming out "WRONG". Why is a chemical company involved in engineering food other than to get rid of an old extremely deadly toxin? This is insane and must be stopped.

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