Environmentalists and Farmers Seek Court Decision Halting Use of Dow’s 'Agent Orange' Pesticide
Late Wednesday, a coalition of environmental organizations and farmers represented by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice filed new legal papers in federal court seeking the reversal of Scott Pruitt and the Trump Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) approval of Dow Chemical's toxic pesticide, Enlist Duo. The novel pesticide is a combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D, to be sprayed over the top of corn, cotton and soybeans that are genetically engineered by Dow with resistance to both pesticides.
"Our filing reveals that EPA approved Enlist Duo despite its significant harms to health, environment, farms, water, and endangered species," said Sylvia Wu, CFS attorney and counsel for the coalition. "EPA's job is protecting the environment, human health, and farmers, not blindly do the bidding of pesticide companies. The court must stop its use."
In early 2017, EPA dramatically expanded approval of Enlist Duo use to 34 states and for use on cotton, only one year after a court sent back EPA's previous approval. The two chemicals in Enlist Duo do more damage when used together than the net damage they do when used separately.
"EPA has put human health, neighboring crops, and the survival and recovery of hundreds of endangered species at risk by recklessly putting a potent and toxic pesticide on the market without the data or expert review the law requires," said Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice attorney and counsel for the coalition. "We, and the law, demand much more from the agency created to protect our health and environment than bowing to chemical industry pressure."
Dow markets Enlist Duo and its companion Enlist crops as a quick fix for the "superweeds" epidemic created by prior genetically engineered "Roundup Ready" crops, genetically engineered to withstand what would otherwise be a toxic dose of the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. Repeated use of Roundup on these crops has resulted in the proliferation of glyphosate-resistant superweeds which now infest over a hundred million acres of U.S. farmland. These superweeds now require an even more toxic combination of herbicides, like Enlist Duo, to take them out, driving a dangerous spiral of increasing weed resistance and pesticide use. The U.S. Department of Agriculture conservatively estimates that use of Enlist Duo on U.S. corn and soybean will increase the use of 2,4-D by 200 to 600 percent.
Jim Goodman, an organic dairy and beef rancher from Wisconsin and board president of National Family Farm Coalition, one of the petitioners in the case, commented, "2,4-D is a possible carcinogen, an endocrine-disruptor and a herbicide that is very drift prone and persistent in the environment. The combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate in Enlist Duo is a recipe for disaster. It may control Roundup-resistant weeds, but only for a while, and at what cost to the health of farm workers, consumers and the environment?" Denise O'Brien, an Iowa farmer and board president of the Pesticide Action Network, emphasized EPA's responsibility to protect rural communities. "By continuing to cave to the pesticide industry's every wish, EPA is abandoning its duty to protect the health of our rural communities and our farmers' livelihoods from these toxic, drift-prone chemicals."
More than half a million people submitted comments to EPA urging the agency to reject Dow's plan to sell Enlist Duo. U.S. National Cancer Institute scientists highlighted 2,4-D specifically as associated with a two- to eight-fold increases in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization classified 2,4-D as a possible carcinogen to humans and glyphosate as a probable carcinogen to humans.
"EPA's decision to allow 2,4-D threaten farmers, farmworkers, rural communities and consumers. With this decision causing a predicted massive increase in use—as much as a seven-fold increase by 2020—the agency is violating any reasonable risk standard, given the productivity and profitability of sustainable organic practices," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.
Spraying Enlist Duo over millions of new acres will also contaminate waterways and important wildlife habitats. Monarch butterfly populations have declined due to the loss of their milkweed host plants, which glyphosate kills. The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to ensure its actions to not jeopardize the existence of any endangered species. EPA admitted its approval could harm hundreds of endangered species, including the whooping crane and Indiana bat, but still failed to comply with the ESA.
"EPA's hasty approval of this dangerous pesticide cocktail will cause severe harm to human health and the environment unless we are able to stop it with this lawsuit," said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Its rush to do the bidding of pesticide companies shows that the EPA is prioritizing corporate profits over their duty protect us from harmful toxins."
The plaintiff coalition is Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, Beyond Pesticides, Pesticide Action Network North America, National Family Farm Coalition, and Family Farm Defenders, jointly represented by legal counsel from Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice.