Very disappointing news came out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture yesterday. The agency announced it is greenlighting Dow Agroscience's new genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans that are designed to withstand repeated applications of 2,4-D — an antiquated, dangerous herbicide.
PAN scientist Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman called the decision "a slap in the face" to the thousands of farmers who have expressed concerns about crop damage, economic losses and health risks associated with the dramatically increased use of 2,4-D that will accompany Dow's new crops. USDA predicts 2,4-D use in corn and soybean production will increase between 500% and 1,400% by 2020.
Strong public outcry
Dow’s proposed introduction of the 2,4-D-resistant seeds two years ago immediately unleashed a firestorm of protest, with nearly half a million farmers, farmworkers, health professionals and concerned individuals from across the country voicing opposition. Fruit and vegetable farmers are particularly concerned that 2,4-D drift will lead to frequent and extensive crop damage.
In a media statement, Ishii-Eiteman emphasized what's at stake:
"Instead of taking farmers’ concerns seriously, and evaluating the entire suite of harms that these pesticide-GE seed combinations pose, USDA focused its approval process on questions that were sure to result in an easy approval for Dow’s new money maker."
USDA continues to ignore the crop damage likely to accompany the projected increase in 2,4-D use. Instead, the agency is focused exclusively on whether the seeds themselves — not the herbicides that go with them — might pose a threat to other crop plants.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with approving the proposed "new use" of herbicides on Dow's new crops — known by the product name "Enlist" — which will be a signature blend of 2,4-D and glyphosate. But from what we've heard, EPA is intending to follow USDA's lead.
Farmers need real solutions
We've seen the strategy of stacking herbicide-resistant traits in seeds unravel with Monsanto's RoundUp Ready line resulting in "superweeds" and indiscriminate use of RoundUp (glyphosate). Dow's Enlist seeds are following that same path — only this time, the fallout will be even worse. Here's why:
2,4-D does and will drift off of target crops. Both spray drift and volatilization drift can devastate adjacent ecosystems and entire landscapes. Such damage poses a very real threat to rural economies and farmers growing non-2,4-D-resistant crops. Conventional farmers will lose crops, while organic farmers will lose both crops and certification, resulting in an economic unraveling of already-stressed rural communities.
- 2,4-D is a very toxic herbicide. It is a suspected endocrine disruptor and has been linked to cancer and reproductive harm. As with many chemicals, children are particularly susceptible to its effects.
- 2,4-D is much more harmful to plant life than RoundUp (glyphosate). Specialty crops (like grapes, tomatoes, beans and sweet corn) and non-GE soy and cotton are extremely sensitive to 2,4-D.
- 2,4-D-resistant “superweeds” will arise and spread. RoundUp-resistant “superweeds” have taken over farms and countryside in the Midwest and Southeast, and widespread use of 2,4-D will spur more of the same.
In summary, a dramatic increase in 2,4-D use would threaten to destroy vulnerable crops while placing the burden of both increased costs and health risks on farmers and rural communities.
For the sake of farmer livelihoods, healthy communities and thriving economies, PAN and partners will be continuing to oppose these GE crops before they hit the market. Stay tuned for ways to support legal interventions and keep the pressure on EPA before the agency makes its final ruling.