2,4-D—The Pesticide that Scares Even Conventional Farmers
02 May, 2012
A new coalition is trying to throw sand in the gears of industrial agriculture’s chemical treadmill. And this one just may have what it takes to slow it down. I’m referring to the fight over USDA approval for Dow AgroScience’s new genetically modified corn seeds (brand name “Enlist”), which are resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D.
This is part of biotech’s “superweed” strategy, by which they hope to address the fact that farmers across the country are facing an onslaught of weeds impervious to the most popular herbicide in use, Monsanto’s glyphosate or RoundUp (and in some cases impervious to machetes as well!). Of course, this is a problem of the industry’s own making. It was overuse of glyphosate caused by the market dominance of Monsanto’s set of glyphosate-resistant genetically engineered seeds that put farmers in this fix in the first place.
One of the older herbicides, 2,4-D is a pretty nasty chemical—it’s been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver problems, reproductive effects, and shows endocrine disrupting potential—which is one of the many reasons farmers prefer the more “benign” glyphosate. In fact, on the basis of the scientific evidence, especially related to human cancers, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) several years ago to withdraw its approval for 2,4-D. Earlier this month, the petition was summarily denied.
So it’s interesting to see this new coalition’s opposition to 2,4-D getting so much traction so quickly. Perhaps it’s because the group—dubbed Save Our Crops—isn’t made up of environmentalists and sustainable agriculture types, but rather Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic conventional farmers and large food processors (and Organic Valley, the organic co-operative organization which is both a producer and a processor).
The basis of their concern isn’t so much the health effects, but the fact that their farms may end up as collateral damage from the increase in the use of 2,4-D that will occur if Dow’s seed is approved. After all, the use of glyphosate went through the roof once Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready seeds took over the marketplace. These farmers expect 2,4-D to follow the same path. (Rodale News estimates a 60 to 80 percent increase.)
The problem has to do with pesticide drift—an issue with many pesticides, but a particular problem with 2,4-D, which unlike glyphosate is highly volatile. While its volatility was in one context considered a strength, at this point even Dow itself acknowledges that it’s a concern. In an article on the battle over the new seed’s approval, The New York Times offers an illustration of what these farmers have to fear:
To Jody Herr, it was a telltale sign that one of his tomato fields had been poisoned by 2,4-D, the powerful herbicide that was an ingredient in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant.
“The leaves had curled and the plants were kind of twisting rather than growing straight,” Mr. Herr said of the 2009 incident on his vegetable farm in Lowell, Ind. He is convinced the chemical, as well as another herbicide called dicamba, had wafted through the air from farms nearly two miles away.