USDA’s Green Light for Pesticide-Promoting, Genetically-Engineered (GE) Corn Opposed by Farmers, Scientists and Public Interest Groups

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Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network: 916-216-1082; ptowers@panna.org
Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch: 202-683-2465; plovera@fwwatch.org

USDA’s Green Light for Pesticide-Promoting, Genetically-Engineered (GE) Corn Opposed by Farmers, Scientists and Public Interest Groups

Dow Chemical’s GE corn will trigger huge increase in use of toxic pesticide 2,4-D

WASHINGTON, DC — January 03, 2014 — Farm, food safety, health and environmental advocates denounced the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which essentially gives the agency’s green light to the marketing, sale and planting of new varieties of genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybean designed to be resistant to the hazardous herbicide, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D).  USDA’s “preferred” determination that 2,4-D corn and soy need not be regulated under the Plant Pest Act comes despite intense opposition over the past two years from over 400,000 individuals including farmers, doctors and more than 150 farm, fishery, public health, consumer and environmental groups and private businesses.  The agency’s release of its draft EIS opens a 45-day public comment period.

Critics contend that cultivation of the new GE corn, developed under the brand name “Enlist” by Dow AgroSciences, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, will lead to dramatically increased use of 2,4-D, damage to non-GE crops—especially fruit and vegetable crops—and adverse effects on farmers’ livelihoods, as well as rural communities’ health and environments.

Noted agricultural scientist Charles Benbrook projects that widespread planting of Enlist corn could trigger as much as a 25-fold increase in use of 2,4-D on corn, from an estimated 4.2 million lbs. at present to over 100 million lbs. by 2019. 70 doctors and health professionals have already urged EPA to reject Dow’s application for new uses of 2,4-D on the GE corn.

Despite acknowledging the expected increase in 2,4-D use in its EIS, USDA argues that the seed by itself poses no risk to other plants and thus requires no agency oversight. American farmers, however, are deeply concerned that Dow’s Enlist corn system will threaten their crops. 2,4-D drift is already responsible for more episodes of crop injury than any other herbicide, and its vastly increased use promises still more damage to crops like soybeans, cotton, vegetables and fruit.

“American farmers and our families are at risk,” said Iowa corn and soybean farmer, George Naylor. “When Dow and Monsanto first brought out these GE crops, they assured us their new, expensive seeds would clean up our environment and reduce pesticide use. That didn’t happen. Today weeds are resistant to RoundUp, so farmers are using older, more deadly herbicides. 2,4-D corn is a giant step backwards; it’s just a terrible idea.”

“Enlist” corn is one of 8 herbicide-resistant GE crops pending approval by USDA.  The others are herbicide-resistant varieties of soybeans (5), cotton (1) and creeping bentgrass (1). Two of these (soy and cotton) have been engineered to be used with dicamba, another notoriously drift-prone herbicide closely related to 2,4-D and known for easily damaging farmers’ non-GE crops. In 2013, USDA rapidly approved 7 other herbicide-resistant GE seeds, as the agency sought to speed up its GE crop approval process.

“GE herbicide-resistant seeds are clearly the growth engine powering the pesticide industry,” noted Pesticide Action Network senior scientist, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman. “These seeds are part of a technology package explicitly designed to drive up herbicide sales. By continuing to rubber-stamp its approval of Dow and Monsanto’s latest products, USDA has abandoned its responsibility to safeguard American farmers’ crops, health and livelihoods.”
 
“We are extremely disappointed with USDA’s impending approval of 2,4-D corn,” said Food & Water Watch assistant director Patty Lovera, referring to the agency’s draft EIS.  “USDA is propelling American agriculture further down a path of increased dependence on older, more toxic pesticides.”

Health studies have linked 2,4-D and related herbicides to increased rates of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, low sperm counts in farmers and birth anomalies in their children. 2,4-D has also been shown to cause liver and nerve damage, as well as hormonal disruption. “Any increase in 2,4-D herbicide use will threaten the health of rural communities, including farmworkers and other residents,” noted  Dr. Robert M. Gould of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Critics point out that Dow is marketing 2,4-D corn as a response to a problem created by first-generation GE herbicide-resistant crops—specifically Monsanto’s “Roundup-Ready” varieties.  Over the past decade, Roundup-Ready crops have triggered massive use of the herbicide glyphosate and an ever-expanding epidemic of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds.”

While Dow claims that 2,4-D crops will alleviate the superweed problem, a recent peer-reviewed study concludes that the opposite is true.  The report, “Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management” (summarized by Center for Food Safety here), finds that Enlist crops will trigger an outbreak of still more intractable weeds resistant to both glyphosate and 2,4-D. 

USDA notes that the Environmental Protection Agency will be conducting its own risk assessments to determine that agency’s approval of Dow AgroScience’s proposed new uses of the 2,4-D herbicide.

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About Pesticide Action Network
Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN North America, or PANNA) works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. As one of five PAN Regional Centers worldwide, we link local and international consumer, labor, health, environment and agriculture groups into an international citizens’ action network. This network challenges the global proliferation of pesticides, defends basic rights to health and environmental quality, and works to ensure the transition to a just and viable society. More information can be found at www.panna.org

About Food & Water Watch
Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

About Physicians for Social Responsibility, San-Francisco Bay Area Chapter
Guided by the expertise of medicine and public health, SF Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility works to protect human life from the gravest threats to health and survival. Consequently, we promote public policies that protect human health from the threats of nuclear war and other weapons of mass destruction, global environmental degradation, the epidemic of gun violence, and other social injustices in our society today.