EPA Approves Controversial 'Superweed' Pesticide for GMO Crops
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today approval, "with first-time ever restrictions," of the new herbicide Enlist Duo, manufactured by Dow AgriSciences. The pesticide is approved for use in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Approval is pending in 10 other states with public comments continuing through Nov. 14.
The herbicide, designed to control weeds in fields of soybeans and corn genetically modified to resist it, combines two other herbicides, 2, 4-D and glyphosate. Dow produced the new combo herbicide in response to the growing resistance of weeds aka "superweeds" to commonly used glyphosate herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup.
According to the EPA, its decision is based on "a large body of science and an understanding of the risk of pesticides to human health and the environment."
It goes on to note that "dozens of other countries" have approved the use of the chemicals and says, "EPA scientists used highly conservative and protective assumptions to evaluate human health and ecological risks for the new uses of 2,4-D in Enlist Duo. The assessments confirm that these uses meet the safety standards for pesticide registration and, as approved, will be protective of the public, agricultural workers and non-target species, including endangered species."
The decision says that the "first-time ever" restrictions it is putting in place include a 30-foot no-spray buffer zone, no application allowed when wind speeds are greater than 15 mph and only ground application allowed.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
"To ensure that weeds will not become resistant to 2,4-D and continue increased herbicide use, EPA is imposing a new robust set of requirements on the registrant," says the decision. "These requirements include extensive surveying and reporting to EPA, grower education and remediation plans. The registration will expire in six years, allowing EPA to revisit the issue of resistance. In the future, the agency intends to apply this approach to weed resistance management for all existing and new herbicides used on herbicide tolerant crops."
Environmental and food safety groups were less than impressed by these safety precautions.
The Center for Food Safety condemned the decision, pointing out that 2, 4-D has been linked to immune system cancers, Parkinson's disease, endocrine disruption and reproductive issues, with children at particular risk, and that studies have shown that the new herbicide will lead to more resistant superweeds.
“Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops led us down this futile path of chemical dependency," said the group's executive director Andrew Kimbrell. "Now imagine Roundup on overdrive. Why are our agencies listening to the chemical companies and not the scientists, doctors and lawmakers who know that more chemicals are not the answer to the superweed problem?"
Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, one of 60 members of Congress to sign a letter opposing Enlist Duo's approval, said, "Today, EPA shunned its duties to protect the environment and safeguard public health by bowing to corporate interests instead of relying on science. For years, the scientific community has been sounding the alarm about the increased use of herbicides and the link to a multitude of health problems. It's shocking that EPA thinks it's a good idea to allow the widespread use of a toxic chemical once found in Agent Orange on this nation's farm fields. EPA should be working to reverse the trend of chemicals that poison our food supply, water and soil. It will be just a matter of time before weeds develop a resistance to 2,4-D, and the chemical industry comes up with an even more dangerous and potent product."
"It's very disappointing that EPA is giving the green light to a massive increase in use of 2,4-D, which has been linked to some very serious illnesses, without adequately assessing the impacts on public health," said Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said. “EPA hasn't bothered to consult the expert agencies about the herbicide's effects on endangered plants and animals. Instead it made the absurd assumption it will have no effect at all. This heedless action merely perpetuates the endless cycle of more genetically engineered crops leading to more pesticide use, leading to more of the same."
The Center for Biological Diversity condemned the EPA's failure to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the herbicide's purported safety around endangered species.
“This was an unbelievably foolish decision," said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Enlist Duo will harm dozens of endangered species and is another nail in the coffin for the monarch butterfly. Once again the EPA has turned a blind eye to endangered species, clean water and human health in its apparently endless desire to placate multinational pesticide companies. At a minimum, the agency needs to restrict use of this new chemical cocktail around streams, endangered species habitats and our communities. The monarch butterfly's migration is one of America's most awe-inspiring natural phenomena, and the EPA is willing to throw it all away just to get one more pesticide product on the market—it's shameful."
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Both Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety said they will explore legal recourse.
“EPA has turned its back on those it purports to protect—the American people and our environment," said Kimbrell. “In the wake of our government's abdication of its responsibilities, Center for Food Safety will pursue all available legal options to stop the commercialization of these dangerous crops."
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As the days shorten and temperatures drop in the northern hemisphere, leaves begin to turn. We can enjoy glorious autumnal colors while the leaves are still on the trees and, later, kicking through a red, brown and gold carpet when out walking.
Reaching the Limit<p>The researchers, led by Deborah Zani at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, studied the degree to which the timing of color changes in autumn tree leaves was determined by the growth of the plant in the preceding spring and summer.</p><p>Temperature and day length were traditionally accepted as the main determinants of when leaves changed color and fell, leading <a href="http://max2.ese.u-psud.fr/publications/Delpierre_2009_AFM.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">some scientists</a> to assume that warming temperatures would delay this process until later in the season. Studying deciduous European tree species, including horse chestnut, silver birch and English oak, the authors of the new study recorded how much carbon each tree absorbed per season and how that ultimately affected when the leaves fell.</p><p>Using data from the <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Barbara_Templ/publication/323254030_Pan_European_Phenological_database_PEP725_a_single_point_of_access_for_European_data/links/5a8bf0dba6fdcc6b1a442ef2/Pan-European-Phenological-database-PEP725-a-single-point-of-access-for-European-data.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pan European Phenology Project</a>, which has tracked some trees for as long as 65 years, the researchers found in their long-term observational study that as the rate of photosynthesis increased, leaves changed color and fell earlier in the year. For every 10% increase in photosynthetic activity over the spring and summer growing season, trees shed their leaves, on average, eight days earlier.</p><p>Climate-controlled experiments on five-year-old European beech and Japanese meadowsweet trees suggest what could be behind this unexpected result. In these trials, the trees were exposed to full sun, half shade or full shade. The results show that there is a limit to the amount of photosynthesis that a tree can carry out over a growing season. Think of it like filling a bucket with water. It can be done slowly or quickly, but once the bucket is full, there is nowhere for any more water to go.</p>
Earlier Autumn Colors<p>In a world with increasing levels of <a href="https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/carbon-dioxide-levels-continue-record-levels-despite-covid-19-lockdown#:%7E:text=The%20annual%20globally%20averaged%20level,per%20million%20benchmark%20in%202015." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon in the atmosphere</a>, these new findings imply that warmer weather and longer growing seasons will not allow temperate deciduous trees to take up more carbon dioxide. The study's predictive model suggests that by 2100, when tree growing seasons are expected to be between 22 and 34 days longer, leaves will fall from trees between three and six days earlier than they do now.</p><p>This has significant implications for climate change modeling. If we accept that the amount of carbon taken up by deciduous trees in temperature countries like the UK will remain the same each year regardless of the growing season, carbon dioxide levels will rise more quickly than was previously expected. The only way to change this will be to increase the capacity of trees to absorb carbon.</p><p>Plants that aren't limited by the amount of nitrogen available may be able to grow for longer in the warming climate. These are the trees which can take nitrogen from the air, such as <a href="https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/alder/" target="_blank">alder</a>. But these species will still lose their leaves at roughly the same time as always, thanks to less daylight and colder temperatures.</p><p>But on the upside, with the prospect of some trees losing their leaves earlier and others losing them at the time they do now, there might be the prospect of prolonged autumnal colors – and more time for us to kick through the leaves.</p>
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Modoc County lies in the far northeast corner of California, and most of its 10,000 residents rely on cattle herding, logging, or government jobs for employment. Rodeos and 4-H programs fill most families' calendars; massive belt buckles, blue jeans, and cowboy hats are common attire. Modoc's niche brand of American individualism stems from a free-spirited cowboy culture that imbues the local ranching conflict with wild horses.
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Indigenous Support for Ecological Balance<p>Ken Sandusky, a public information officer who has worked for the Forest Service in Modoc County for 13 years, lives by his station's mission statement: "Caring for the Land and Serving People." In his work, Sandusky aims to include the broad range of stakeholders and often acts as a tribal liaison. Sandusky himself is a member of the Choctaw tribe of Oklahoma, but as a Modoc native, is more culturally in touch with the local Klamath tribe.</p><p>When it comes to rangeland health, he says, there's a tangible split in what that actually means. "It depends on what you are measuring the outcome against," Sandusky explains. Range managers may perceive progress from a year-to-year basis, but to many Indigenous tribes, the baseline for "progress" goes back generations, to pre-contact times. "They have long memories," he says. "Tribes see damage that is a hundred-plus years in the making."</p>
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