(Beyond Pesticides, April 23, 2012) A diverse coalition of farm groups has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct a comprehensive environmental impact statement on the cumulative effects of a new generation of genetically engineered (GE) crops modified to tolerate the herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba. The Save Our Crops Coalition filed the petition in advance of an anticipated spike in applications of the two herbicides in 2013 with the commercial release of a new generation of “stacked” corn and soybean varieties, which will also be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. In the petition, the coalition stated that 2,4-D and dicamba have been proven to be especially prone to volatilization and drift and that even extremely low residue levels can cause catastrophic damage to non-target crops as far as ten miles from the point of application.
The petition raises specific concerns about the increased 2, 4-D and dicamba usage due to the timing of the herbicide applications. The new blended 2,4-D or dicamba and glyphosate herbicides will be sprayed repeatedly during the growing season after weeds emerge and begin to compete with crops. Spraying herbicides, which are known to volatilize and drift during periods when specialty crops are at their greatest risk of exposure, is likely to increase the incidence of and resultant damage to non-target crops. The coalition stated it expects the newly 2,4-D and dicamba tolerant varieties to be grown in close proximity to crops like soybeans, tomatoes, grapes, green beans, peas, cucumbers, squash, melons, pumpkins, all of which are highly sensitive to exposure to these herbicides.
“My farming operation was decimated by 2,4-D exposure. The government’s consideration of the impact of its actions is a necessary first step in ensuring no other specialty crop producer has to endure the devastation that my farm has experienced,” said Gary Phelps, a tree farmer based in Kentucky. “The dramatic increase in the use of 2,4-D and dicamba, and these herbicides known impacts on off-target crops threaten the survival of the specialty crop production in the Midwest. It’s time USDA, the stewards of American agriculture, stood up and considered the cumulative impacts of all these crops,” said Steve Smith of Red Gold, an Indiana-based food processor and coalition member.
2, 4-D is a highly toxic herbicide which has been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, endocrine disruption, and kidney and liver damage. It is also neurotoxic and is toxic to beneficial insects (such as bees), earthworms, birds, and fish. Scientific studies have confirmed significantly elevated rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for farmers who use 2, 4-D. Dicamba is a neurotoxic chlorinated benzoic acid herbicide that the EPA classifies as acute toxicity class III, slightly toxic. The material is a recognized eye irritant, moderately persistent in the environment and highly mobile in soil and water as well through the air. Chronic exposure to Dicamba is linked to reproductive and developmental effects.
The Save Our Crops Coalition represents more than 2,000 farmers and groups such as the Organic Valley Cooperative, the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association, and major food processors Seneca and Red Gold. While the coalition does not categorically object to the use of GM materials in agriculture, its petition specifically faults the draft environmental impact statement prepared by USDAs Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for inadequately assessing the cumulative effects of multiple new 2,4-D and dicamba resistant varieties entering the market simultaneously. The petition cites one scientific expert who projects a 1,070% increase in the amount of 2,4-D alone being applied to corn within five years. The coalition submitted its petition to an open docket that APHIS maintains for public comment on the proposed release by Dow AgroScience of a 2,4-D corn variety. The public is welcome to submit comments to this docket.
Farmers do not have to remain stuck on a pesticide treadmill that demands ever greater amounts of synthetic inputs and rewards chemical suppliers at the expense of farm profitability and the environment. Organic agriculture is an ecologically-based management system that prioritizes cultural, biological, and mechanical production practices and natural inputs. By strengthening on-farm resources, such as soil fertility, pasture and biodiversity, organic farmers can minimize and even avoid the production challenges that chemical inputs such as synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics are marketed as solving.
GE crops have also yet to deliver on the early promises made by the biotechnology industry to increase crop yields. A 2009 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists evaluated the overall effect genetic engineering has had on crop yields in relation to other agricultural technologies. It reviewed two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary GE food and feed crops grown in the United States. The report concludes that GE herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report finds, is largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.
Source: Planet Ark
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.