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Global health experts say 2,4-D is “possibly carcinogenic” to humans

For Immediate Release: June 22, 2015
Contact: Paul Towers, PAN, [email protected] or 916-216-1082

Global health experts say 2,4-D is “possibly carcinogenic” to humans
Decision raises red flag over about recent approval of GE crops reliant on the herbicide

June 22, 2015 – The World Health Organization’s (WHO) prestigious scientific body, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), has released its much-anticipated evaluation of the widely used herbicide 2,4-D. As reported by Reuters, the team of international scientists concluded that available epidemiological studies provided "strong evidence that 2,4-D induces oxidative stress … and moderate evidence that 2,4-D causes immunosuppression."  Oxidative stress is a condition of imbalance between oxidants and anti-oxidants that can lead to neurogenerative diseases, gene mutations and cancers, among other ailments. Immunosuppression describes a reduction in the activity or efficacy of the body’s immune system.

The WHO’s announcement comes on the heels of the recent classification by the IARC of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” a further blow to the dominant system of industrialized commodity farming that is heavily reliant on chemical pesticides. Dow Chemical’s new genetically engineered (GE) 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybean seeds are expected to increase 2,4-D usage between 500% and 1,400% within nine years of introduction.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at PAN, released the following statement:

“The IARC has affirmed what those of us following the science on 2,4-D have known for years: this herbicide is a danger to human health, increasing the risk of cancer and other debilitating conditions among exposed rural communities.

Dow’s herbicide 2,4-D has long been used in U.S. fields, but this notice from IARC comes at a critical crossroads for farming worldwide. We must heed the warning: we cannot continue down the path of dousing our fields with ever more toxic chemicals as a temporary solution to today’s epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds — a problem greatly exacerbated in recent years by dependence on glyphosate, now classified as a probable carcinogen. If we keep running on this pesticide treadmill, farmers, their families and rural residents will continue to be in harm’s way. It’s time to look to ecology-based solutions for weed management.

USDA and EPA approved Dow’s Enlist Duo products (corn and soybean seeds genetically engineered to be resistant to 2,4-D and glyphosate), without considering the full consequences to farmers’ health and livelihoods. An enormous increase in 2,4-D use is expected to accompany planting of the new seeds. Experts already predict increased crop damage and severe economic harm to farmers from 2,4-D drifting onto sensitive fruit and vegetable crops. In addition, this IARC analysis now shows that use of Enlist Duo—which contains both 2,4-D and glyphosate—is likely to harm more than crops; rural families who live near corn and soy fields will be exposed to two hazardous chemicals at once.

USDA is currently evaluating its own process for approval of GE products, following the highly controversial rubber stamp it gave to Dow’s Enlist Duo products, and the ensuing public outcry.

The WHO’s classification of 2,4-D as a possible carcinogen underscores the need for a much more rigorous regulatory process, independent of industry influence, that weighs all impacts of a proposed GE crop —including the by-design surge in herbicide use that inevitably accompanies introduction of these herbicide-resistant seeds.

USDA can no longer brush these impacts under the rug by focusing GE product approval on the intentionally narrow questions it has used in its assessments to date. For 20 years, USDA has placidly followed the biotechnology industry’s lead and deregulated virtually all GE crops that industry has put forward, ignoring the resulting surge in pesticide use and escalating harms to rural communities, their health, livelihoods and environment. It is past time for USDA to remember its mandate to protect the public interest and do its job right."


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