On Wednesday September 17, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that it would approve Genetically Modified Corn and Soybean seeds from Dow AgroSciences of the Dow Chemical company.
The GM seeds were created to resist the herbicides 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid(2,4-D) and glyphosate as part of the Enlist Weed Control system. Under the Enlist system, crops are sprayed with Dow’s Enlist Duo herbicide which contains 2,4-D and glyphosate.
The weed controls system is the latest effort to combat the growing problem of so-called “super weeds” that have resulted from the abundant use of glyphosate-based herbicides. Glyphosate is Monsanto Co.’s premiere herbicide, including the popular Roundup product. In order to fight off the tougher weeds, Dow and Monsanto partnered together to produce a new stronger herbicide comprised of 2,4-D, and glyphosate. For this to work the biotech corps need approval for the seeds from the USDA and approval for the new 2,4-d herbicide from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
With the USDA’s approval the focus shifts towards the EPA. The federal agency is expected to approve the updated version of 2,4-D sometime this Fall. The USDA expects use of 2,4-D to increase by 200 to 600 percent by 2020 if approved by the EPA. The move has critics in an uproar about possible dangers to public health.
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety, called the move “an unacceptable outcome.” Despite fears of the herbicides drifting and contaminating surrounding communities, Dow AgroSciences stated that the new version of 2,4-D addresses those issues. “We’ve used the latest science and technology to address problem weeds,” said Dow AgroSciences President Tim Hassinger.
Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PhD, senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network, said the USDA’s approval amounted to “a slap in the face to farmers.” She continued, “It’s time for a change: we need a USDA that serves farmers, not Dow and Monsanto.”
The Environmental Working Group also weighed in on the decision, stating, “We are truly disappointed in the USDA for putting the interests of chemical companies before the health of our children and the environment.”
The EWG released an analysis showing that more than 480 elementary schools nationwide are within 200 feet of corn and soybean fields that could be blanketed by the herbicide. The organization believes this will put the children at risk for a host of health issues associated with the use of 2,4-D.
The non-profit Beyond Pesticides has compiled a list of studies that hint at health dangers associated with the 2,4-D, including a six-fold increased risk of non-Hodkin’s lymphoma, lowered sperm counts and abnormalities. Some studies with rats showed 2,4-D concentrated in brain tissue and a rise in rare brain tumors.
According to the EPA’s own assessment, “Acute exposure to very high concentrations of 2,4-D can cause the following clinical symptoms: stupor; coma; coughing; burning sensations in lungs; loss of muscular coordination;
nausea; vomiting; or dizziness.”
The herbicide is the third most popular in the U.S., behind Monsanto’s glyphosate and atrazine. It was first published in 1941 and began being used as an herbicide in 1945. Controversy has followed the herbicide since it’s use as an ingredient in the Agent Orange poison of the Vietnam War.
The BioTechnology Complex
The Enlist Duo deal sparked a partnership between Monsanto and Dow that should have critics of cronyism raising an eyebrow.
It was Monsanto’s glyphosate and GM crops built to resist the herbicide that sparked the massive spraying that has led to the super weeds. Now Dow and Monsanto’s partnership will not only increase the use of glyphosate but it will add another herbicide with health concerns to the mix. Monsanto is also preparing to launch a new herbicide resistant system called the Roundup Ready Xtend Crop system. Together Dow and Monsanto are cornering the market and using their influence to push their products into the market.
While much of the debate surrounding Genetically Modified crops has centered around the health implications, there is a significant discussion surrounding the cronyism or corporatism between the U.S. government and companies such as Monsanto and Dow. Quite simply, the American public is not comfortable with the close relationship biotechnology companies have with the governments regulatory agencies.
While researching for possible nefarious connections between Dow and the government I came across Dr. Clayton Keith Yeutter. Yeutter served as United States Secretary of Agriculture under President George H. W. Bush from 1989 to 1991 before serving as Counselor to the President in 1992. He is now a member of the board of directors of Mycogen Corporation, whose majority owner is Dow AgroSciences, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company. Yeutter is also the Independent Director at Neogen Corp, a distributor of GMO test kits.
Since Mr. Yeutter’s lifelong field of study has been agriculture it makes sense for him to hold related positions in the public and private sphere. However, in the age of heavy corporate influence on public figures these connections and possible conflicts of interest are sure to alert opponents of corporatism.
Is the USDA’s decision another example of cronyism/corporatism?
Leave your thoughts below.