OpEd

Story published: 02-20-2014 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Crops carrying hidden danger


By Frances Lamberts

“USDA seeks public review and comment” is the headline of a January 3 news release.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in the Department of Agriculture released a draft environmental impact assessment that day on which it seeks public input, until February 24.

The Service undertook the assessment pursuant to petitions from the Dow chemical and Monsanto companies that some corn and soybean plants, newly genetically engineered to tolerate repeated herbicide applications, be deregulated for routine planting, without regulatory limitations.

The chemicals which the GE crop varieties in question are engineered to withstand are a new formulation of 2,4-D.

This herbicide, approved by the Environmental Protection Agency since 2005 for control of broad-leaf plants such as dandelions, is among the most widely used synthetic chemicals in industrial agriculture and lawn care products, for “simple weed management.”

A major ingredient in Agent Orange, the defoliant was heavily used in Vietnam and has been linked to certain cancers and other health problems of US veterans.

The pervasive use and cumulative effects of 2,4-D raise worrisome questions. University of Delaware journalism professor McKay Jenkins, summarizing years of scientific research, cited a wide range of human health problems related to it. University of California biology professor Miguel Altieri and other scientists revealed harm for soil health, water, and plant and animal communities from heavy use of 2,4-D and other such chemicals.

Jenkins notes much research linking 2,4-D to cancers. Farmers in Kansas exposed to it for twenty or more days a year, National Cancer Institute studies showed, were six times more likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and dogs whose owners used it on their lawns twice as likely to contract lymphoma.

Higher lung cancer rates among lawn-care workers using the chemical, and a higher rate of birth defects among their children were found in other studies.

The chemicals’ purpose being to “control weeds,” an ecological side effect is that many pollinating insects can be killed directly, or indirectly through losing nectar and larval plant food sources they need. Last spring, the Monarch Watch organization traced an alarming decline of monarch butterflies over the last 15 years to GE crops having “all but eliminated milkweeds from [the] fields.”

Compared with their numbers in the mid 1990s, as the Johnson City Press reported recently, only four percent of monarch butterflies successfully made it to Mexican wintering grounds, across the milkweed-barren US lands, last year.

The herbicide-tolerant plants which the chemical companies are now applying to have deregulated are said to be needed because some earlier GE varieties have lost weed-control effectiveness.

Although the new 2,4-D herbicide to be used with them must first be registered through the EPA, APHIS is stating a “preferred alternative” of allowing unlimited and unregulated planting of the new GE crops.

U.S. farming should get off the chemicals-use treadmill it is on and switch to integrated pest-management and organic practices, which provide equal or higher crop yield, instead.

Comments can be submitted on the website, http://regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2013-0042.