Speak Up Now to Stop 'Agent Orange Corn'!

By Emily Main

Do we really need a corn bred to resist a hormone-disrupting herbicide known to cause birth defects and destroy crops?

The current heavy use of genetically modified varieties of corn, cotton, soy, and canola has led to a boom in pesticide-resistant weeds and insects. As these "superweeds" and "superbugs" proliferate, farmers have to turn to more potent herbicides and insecticides to protect their crops. One harmful example is 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange that has been found to be contaminated with the known carcinogen dioxin.

And if the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proceeds as many organic food activists suspect it will, a 2,4-D–resistant variety of genetically modified corn could be in fields as early as next year. The corn, dubbed "Agent Orange Corn," is being developed by Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, one of two companies that manufactured Agent Orange (the other was Monsanto).

"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," Andrew Kimbrell, director of the anti-GMO nonprofit Center for Food Safety, said in a statement.

If approved, the crop could be planted as early as next year, bringing with it all the health problems of 2,4-D exposure, including Parkinson's disease, nerve damage, and hormone disruption—to say nothing of the birth defects and cancers caused by dioxin, a potential contaminant. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency have also found that, in countries with high rates of 2,4-D use on farms, birth defect rates are as much as 60 to 90 percent higher than in other countries.

What's threatening to farmers of non-genetically modified crops is that 2,4-D damages neighboring crops more so than any other weed killer, according to the Center for Food Safety. It can kill wheat before the grain has had a chance to sprout, and can kill as much as 82 percent of sunflowers in a field, just by drifting in from a nearby farm.

In 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to ban 2,4-D entirely. On February 23rd, the environmental nonprofit sued the agency for failing to respond to that petition. Citing the chemical's toxic effects on people and water, NRDC scientists warn that, if 2,4-D-resistant corn gains USDA approval, use of the herbicide could increase by 50-fold or more.

Genetically modified crops, the Center for Food Safety has said, are a failed technology. Repeated field trials by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and at the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute have shown that they produce no better yields than non-genetically modified and organic varieties, and often, according to the UN, under certain circumstances, perform worse than their organic counterparts, rendering new genetically modified varieties as providing "no public benefit," Kimbrell said in his statement.

The USDA's public comment period on Dow's 2,4-D-resistant corn ends on February 27th. You can let the agency know that you don't want another crop that demands heavy sprayings of toxic chemicals by leaving a comment for USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack via the Pesticide Action Network's website.

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Note: The Rodale Research Feed features new research findings that may include preliminary or unconfirmed results. Check with a healthcare provider, or an appropriate advisor you trust, before making any significant changes based on these reports.

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