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USDA to Decide Imminently on 'Agent Orange' Corn

GMO

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 27. Comments may be submitted to the agency through the Center for Food Safety's action link by clicking here.

For more information on 2,4-D corn, see the Center for Food Safety's two-page fact sheet and more extensive Food Safety Review.

For more information, click here.

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