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Center for Food Safety

More than 140 groups and 365,000 citizens from across the country are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reject a Dow Chemical application seeking approval of a controversial genetically engineered (GE) corn that is resistant to the hazardous herbicide 2,4-D. In addition to the public comments, 143 farm, environmental, health, fisheries groups and companies will submit a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing their overwhelming opposition to this crop. The comments and letter will be submitted when USDA’s public comment period ends on April 27.

“American agriculture stands at a crossroads. One path leads to more intensive use of old and toxic pesticides, litigious disputes in farm country over drift-related crop injury, less crop diversity, increasingly intractable weeds, and sharply rising farmer production costs,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “This is the path American agriculture will take with approval of Dow’s 2,4-D resistant corn, soybeans and the host of other new herbicide-resistant crops in the pipeline. Another path is possible, but embarking upon it will take enlightened leadership from USDA.”

According to agricultural scientist Dr. Charles Benbrook, widespread planting of 2,4-D resistant corn could trigger as much as a 30-fold increase in 2,4-D use on corn by the end of the decade, given 2,4-D’s limited use on corn at present. Overall 2,4-D use in American agriculture would rise from 27 million lbs. today to more than 100 million lbs. 2,4-D soybeans and cotton would boost usage still more. Yet USDA has provided no analysis of the serious harm to human health, the environment or neighboring farms that would result.

“It’s clear that this new generation of GE herbicide-resistant seeds is the growth engine of the pesticide industry’s sales and marketing strategy,” said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “These seeds are part of a technology package explicitly designed to facilitate increased, indiscriminate herbicide use and pump up chemical sales.”

In addition, 35 medical and public health professionals have signed a letter to USDA warning of the severe health harms that would likely accompany the massive increase in 2,4-D use, expected to accompany approval of the GE seed. “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 Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “USDA must take these significant risks seriously and reject approval of this crop.”

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. Last week, a coalition representing more than 2,000 farmers and groups filed petitions with the USDA and the EPA, asking USDA to conduct a thorough environmental review before making a decision on approving 2,4-D resistant corn and EPA to convene an advisory panel to examine impacts from increased application of the herbicides.

“Farmers are on the front lines of this potential chemical disaster,” said Iowa conventional corn and soybean farmer George Naylor. “Conventional farmers stand to lose crops while organic farmers will lose both crops and certification, resulting in an economic unraveling of already-stressed rural communities. I’m also very concerned about the further pollution of the air and water in my community.”

“USDA must stand up for those growing America’s food and put their interests, and the public’s, ahead of chemical companies’ profits,” added Margot McMillen, an organic farmer in Missouri. Hers is the message of farmers who spoke on this issue at an April 26 national telepress conference organized by the National Family Farm Coalition.

Dow’s 2,4-D resistant corn is a clear indication that first-generation GE, herbicide-resistant crops—specifically 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 “superweeds.”

Though Dow claims 2,4-D crops are the solution to weed resistance a recent peer-reviewed study published in the prestigious journal Bioscience concludes that these new GE crops will pour oil on the fire. The study, entitled Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management, suggests new GE crops will trigger an outbreak of still more intractable weeds resistant to both glyphosate and 2,4-D.

2,4-D drift and runoff also pose serious risk for environmental harm. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service have found that 2,4-D is likely having adverse impacts on several endangered species, including the California red-legged frog, the Alameda whipsnake, and Pacific salmon, via impacts on their habitats and prey.

“EPA recently denied our petition to ban or control 2,4-D, putting their head in the sand instead of protecting people and plants,” said Mae Wu, a health attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “If USDA now grants Dow’s application, farmers, gardeners, wildlife and kids will all face even greater exposure to this toxic herbicide.”

If approved, the Center for Food Safety 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.

The groups submitting public comments to USDA include the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network, Food & Water Watch, Food Democracy Now, the National Family Farm Coalition, Organic Farming Research Foundation, the Organic Consumers Association, SumOfUs.org, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Center for Food Safety

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 crop that is resistant to the highly toxic herbicide 2,4-D—one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange.

On Feb. 22, just five days before the close of the comment period, the USDA extended the public comment period on this issue until the end of April 2012. The Center for Food Safety (CFS), the nation’s leading organization in the fight against GE crops, was one of the groups that requested this extension from USDA, and we are pleased the agency responded accordingly. 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,” 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.”

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.

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 pour oil on the fire, triggering an outbreak of still more intractable weeds resistant to both glyphosate and 2,4-D.

USDA’s public comment period on 2,4-D resistant corn is open until April 27th. Comments may be submitted to the agency through CFS’s action link by clicking here.

For more information on 2,4-D corn, see CFS’s two-page fact sheet and more extensive Food Safety Review.

For more information, click here.

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The Center for Food Safety is a national, nonprofit, membership organization founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture.

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