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Genetically Modified Herbicide Resistant Grape Developed

(Beyond Pesticides, October 23, 2008) Researchers in Illinois have developed a genetically modified grape that is resistant to the toxic herbicide 2,4-D. The development is in response to serious losses grape growers in the Midwest have suffered as a result of the surrounding use of 2,4-D on grain crops. While the new variety may mean that Midwest grape growers can continue to grow grapes successfully, it does not address the underlying problem –excessive use of toxic herbicides that are prone to drift thereby contaminating other crops, air and water, and threatening human and environmental health.

Herbicide resistant crops were first introduced in 1996 with Roundup Ready soybeans, which were engineered to enable the spraying of Roundup (active ingredient glyphosate) without harming the soybean plants. Since then other Roundup Ready varieties, such as corn, cotton, canola, and sugar beets, have been introduced and are grown in the U.S. and abroad. In a victory for Beyond Pesticides and other environmental groups who see the proliferation of genetically engineered crops as a threat to health, the environment and organic farmers’ livelihoods, a federal court upheld a ban on Roundup Ready alfalfa in September.

The widespread adoption of Roundup Ready crops has led to increased glyphosate use, propelling it to the number one herbicide in the United States. This has serious implications for public health and the environment, as glyphosate has been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, kidney and liver damage, skin irritation, is neurotoxic and toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. Increased herbicide usage has also led to resistant varieties of “superweeds.”

2,4-D, the herbicide to which this new variety of grapes is resistant, is a highly toxic herbicide that was first registered for use in the 1940s, and has remained one of the highest volume herbicides used in the U.S. since then, despite its notoriety as one of the primary ingredients in Agent Orange, an herbicide used in Vietnam that has had devastating effects on soldiers and Vietnamese residents exposed to it. It is used commonly on lawns as well as in agriculture and targets broadleaf weeds. Over 40 million pounds of the active ingredient are used each year in the U.S.

Traditional varieties of grapes are very sensitive to 2,4-D, and widespread use of the herbicide on grain in the Midwest has incurred grape losses because of drift and contamination. The new variety is intended to protect the grapes from 2,4-D drift from other farms. While the losses suffered by grape growers is significant and unacceptable, the introduction of a resistant variety does nothing to solve the root problem.

The continued high use of herbicides like 2,4-D and glyphosate poses an unacceptable threat to public health and the environment in light of the viability and availability of alternatives. Organic, no-till agriculture provides weed suppression through the use of cover crops as mulch, which adds organic matter and nitrogen to the soil, eliminating the perceived need for herbicides and Nitrogen fertilizers. Large scale adoption of such environmentally friendly farming practices is the answer to eliminating pesticide use and therefore pesticide drift. The development of herbicide resistant genetically engineered plant varieties will only serve to further the pesticide contamination problem.

Source: Environment News Service


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