By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Opponents of GE-corn designed to resist the potent herbicide 2,4 D have flooded the USDA with letters of protest this week.

The majority of US corn has been engineered to be RoundUp ready. But RoundUp treated fields are producing super weeds that are overrunning the fields. Enter Dow Chemical with 2,4 D resistant corn. (Photo: GreenRightNow.)

The new variety of genetically engineered (GE) corn, proposed by Dow Chemical, has attracted thousands of negative public comments from citizens concerned about the health effects of the herbicide that comprised one half of the infamous Agent Orange defoliant that left many Vietnam veterans with a variety of health and reproductive issues.

Among those opposed, are 141 environmental, public health and farm groups that filed a letter of protest this week and 41 scientists who also filed a formal letter of protest with the USDA, which must approve the new engineered corn variety. The public registered more than 360,000 comments opposing approval, according to the Center for Food Safety. The comment period on Dow’s application was set to end today.

The groups say that using 2,4 D presents too many health dangers to humans, and to the soil and waterways, to justify extending its use. The chemical is already approved for other agricultural uses, and is the active ingredient in many weed-and-feed products used by homeowners on their lawns.

Although the amounts of 2,4 D in each application may be small and meet “tolerances” set by the EPA, allowing the chemical to accumulate in the environment, on food and in homes, is dangerous, according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), one of the groups fighting Dow’s application.

“Data shows several possible cancer links,” including “overwhelming evidence” linking 2,4-D exposure to Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, said Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America.

Farmers also say that using 2,4 D-resistant corn would continue a system of fighting weeds with chemicals that has been shown to be dysfunctional.

Genetically modified crops are using more pesticides than ever, not less, as the biotech companies once promised, because their tactics of creating pesticide resistant crops are creating pesticide-resistant weeds as well, according to the farmers and groups opposing GE-crop expansion. (They point to this study.)

George Naylor, who’s been farming corn and soybeans in Iowa for 35 years, sees the GE approach as a cleverly marketed way to takeover agriculture by biotech firms that want to own food production and sell more chemicals.

“I’ve not raised genetically modified crops, in which the basic building blocks of life are transferred from one species to another, and I’ve managed to control my weeds in a satisfactory way without genetically modified crops,” Naylor said in a news conference convened by 2,4 D opponents on Thursday.

“This idea that we have to go down this road to feed the world is totally wrong, totally crazy,” he said, explaining that this argument is falsely used to win support for GE foods. But the higher-yields of GE crops only occur because the biotech companies are using the best seeds for their genetically modified programs, he said. In addition, those higher yields only last a short time, until the super weeds they produce cause crop failures.

Naylor also pointed to the fact that the majority of the vast corn and soybeans raised in the US are not shipped overseas to ‘feed the world’ but are consumed by domestic livestock for the meat, poultry and dairy industries.

Another farmer at the news conference also said she fears that GE crops do more harm than good, raising a slightly different concern: GE crops threaten contaminate organic production such as her produce farm in Missouri that supplies restaurants with organic vegetables. Contamination can occur through seed drift, and when pesticides are sprayed nearby. Organic plants not engineered to withstand the mid-season application of pesticides can suffer.

The 2,4-D corn also threatened the health of crop workers, said Margot McMillen, who noted that weed resistance to GE crops has been a known problem for more than a decade, yet companies have not presented a viable solution, other than switching to new chemicals.

Just as the last generation of GE corn and soybeans, engineered to resist glyphosate or RoundUp, produced RoundUp resistant weeds that set up crop failures, 2,4 D can be expected to produce a new set of superweeds, McMillen said.

“It seems like a path that doesn’t really have a solution at the end of it, and one of the things we really have to think about is, are there other ways we can handle this problem. Or is it such a problem? Can we live with weeds maybe?” she said.

Ben Burkett, a Southern farmer of cotton and produce who also spoke at the news conference, had a similar viewpoint.

Recalling that the now-banned DDT was once sprayed to control the boll weevil on cotton — before people recognized “we were killing ourselves” with it, he proposed that today’s chemicals aren’t worth the health risks.

Nor is the biotech approach working, Burkett said, explaining that super weeds are reducing available crop land in the South. New GE variations will just exacerbate the problem, he said.

“Mother Nature’s always more powerful than what we can come up with,” Burkett said.

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