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EPA Approves Herbicide For GMO Crops

The approval of another herbicide specifically for use on genetically modified (GM) crops underscores the timeliness of Oregon’s Measure 92 that would mandate labeling foods containing GMOs. On Oct. 15, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave final approval of the herbicide Enlist Duo, which is used on Dow Chemical crops genetically modified to resist the chemicals glyphosate and 2,4-D. 

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s commonly used herbicide Roundup, and some weeds have become resistant to the chemical, causing fears over the development of herbicide-resistant “superweeds.” The chemical 2,4-D is often cited as one of the ingredients in Agent Orange, which has been linked to health issues in Vietnam veterans.

Monsanto has given just over $4 million to try to defeat Measure 92 in the November election, and Dow AgroSciences has given more than $300,000, according to the Oregon secretary of state’s website. 

Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio promptly issued a strongly worded response to the decision. “EPA shunned its duties to protect the environment and safeguard public health by bowing to corporate interests instead of relying on science,” DeFazio writes. “It will be just a matter of time before weeds develop a resistance to 2,4-D, and the chemical industry comes up with an even more dangerous and potent product.”

Ray Seidler, a former EPA senior scientist who has researched 2,4-D, says that the EPA’s decision is flawed in a familiar way — the pesticide has not been properly studied. While 2,4-D has long been used for weed control in Oregon and around the U.S., the EPA decision is a big one because it allows 2,4-D to be used on food crops like corn and soybeans.

The EPA is not going to require industry to analyze for dioxin, “and why not is beyond me,” Seidler tells EW. “There are no toxicological research investigations as to the effects that these two disparate chemicals have when simultaneously applied to ecosystems, including mammals and humans.”

The research that exists on 2,4-D, however, gives pause. “2,4-D is notorious for health effects, and glyphosate is gaining a reputation amongst researchers for deleterious impacts,” says Lisa Arkin, executive director of Eugene-based Beyond Toxics. She points to EPA literature that lists 15 debilitating potential health effects of exposure to 2,4-D, including nausea, vomiting and renal failure.

Invoking the dark legacy of Agent Orange in the fight against 2,4-D may seem risky, but Seidler argues that in this debate the chemical fact remains, and any notion of what is “fair” has been chucked out the window.

“Is it fair to force American farmers to lease seeds coated with insecticides such as neonicotinoids that are often not effective in increasing corn yields?” Seidler asks. “Is it fair to entice farmers into this biotech corporate-money-raising scheme at the expense of killing off pollinators?”

The Natural Resources Defense Council has filed a suit with the EPA to prevent the decision from taking effect.