(Beyond Pesticides, June 11, 2007) Scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) have discovered a gene that enables crops to tolerate being sprayed with dicamba. Citing previous experience with glyphosate resistant crops, environmentalists are concerned that this will increase use of a toxic herbicide while negatively impacting health and the environment.
This new gene expands the range of genetically engineered (GE) crops available to farmers. The most popular are currently marketed as â€œRoundup Ready,” or tolerant of glyphosate, by Monsanto Company The discovery is being touted as a way to provide another option in areas where weeds have built up a resistance to glyphosate. Indeed, biochemist Don Weeks, who headed the UNL team, said, â€œImportantly, we think that this technology will help to extend the lifetime of the Roundup Ready technology. Some Roundup-resistant weeds have emerged in recent years, but working dicamba products into a weed-control strategy with Roundup could help counter that trend and lead to more complete weed control.” In fact, the dicamba-ready technology could appear in fields as part of a â€œstacked” seed, which is tolerant to both glyphosate and dicamba. Said Mr. Weeks, â€œIt is highly likely that [Monsanto] would stack our gene with the Roundup resistant gene.”
UNL has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Monsanto to develop crops using the new technology. Mr. Weeks noted, â€œWeâ€™re testing for efficacy in other crops; that research is looking promising.” The research, done through UNLâ€™s Agricultural Research Division, is funded by Monsanto, which has, in recent years, invested considerable resources towards GE crops.
Dicamba, among other potential health effects, is neurotoxic and has been connected with reproductive and developmental problems. Additionally, glyphosate has been linked to neurotoxic and negative reproductive endpoints. For more information on their health and environmental effects, visit the Pesticide Gateway.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report found dicamba to be extremely mobile and likely to contaminate groundwater, directly contradicting Mr.Weeksâ€™s claim that â€œit rarely runs off into water supplies that people drink” because it â€œdoes not stick around.” Mr. Weeks concluded his statement of complete confidence in GE food safety by saying â€œwe all have been eating food that for the last 60 years have been treated with various herbicides that farmers use to control weeds and thereâ€™s been no significant health problems associated with consuming that food.”
In addition to the lack of information available on the long-term safety of GE products, Beyond Pesticides is concerned with the environmental and health effects of the herbicideâ€™s application and residues. As courts have found in the past, risks associated with GE seeds are not limited to product consumption. Herbicide-resistant weeds, pollen drift, impact on organic agriculture and exported crops were enough to convince a federal judge that USDA was obligated to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before allowing use of GE alfalfa.
On glyphosate and dicamba, Mr. Weeks argued, â€œI donâ€™t think anybody has any concern about the safety of either of those two compounds. And the fact of the matter is that all herbicide and pesticides have to go through a pretty thorough testing before theyâ€™re ever brought to market . . . and the government on rare occasions have pulled herbicides â€“ not so much herbicides, but insecticides â€“ off the market when they have deemed them to be perhaps less safe than they would like. So things that are on the market have been looked at very carefully in regard to human and wildlife and environmental safety.”
In contrast, Beyond Pesticides maintains that not only has the government approved chemicals that pose serious health and environmental risks, but that agriculture is economically viable without the use of toxic pesticides. In addition, full disclosure of the source of our food should be required; GE food is not currently required to be labeled as such. For more information on organic food and farming, click here.