(Beyond Pesticides, July 16, 2012) The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has announced that it will soon create a docket to receive public comment on twelve petitions for new genetically engineered (GE) plants. Nine of the petitions, which include a soybean variety engineered to tolerate 2,4-D and two other pesticides and the first ever genetically engineered apple, are being processed under USDAâ€™s streamlined review procedures. USDAâ€™s review of the three other petitions, including a separate soybean variety tolerant to 2,4-D and glufosinate, began under the previous procedures and those crops, having reached a further clearance stage, are approaching commercial release. Information on each of the twelve genetically engineered crops is available on the APHIS website and the agency stated that the public comment dockets will be opened in the very near future.
The introduction of crops tolerant of 2,4-D represents a dramatic escalation of the damage to human health and the environment caused by genetically engineered crops. 2,4-D is a highly toxic herbicide which has been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, endocrine disruption, and kidney and liver damage in humans. Scientific studies have confirmed significantly elevated rates of non-Hodgkinâ€™s lymphoma for farmers who use 2,4-D. The herbicide is also toxic to beneficial insects (such as bees), earthworms, birds, and fish. Increased applications of 2,4-D on corn and soybean fields are especially dangerous because the herbicide will be sprayed repeatedly during the growing season after weeds emerge and begin to compete with crops. With the herbicideâ€™s pronounced tendency to volatilize and drift off-site, applying 2,4-D during periods when specialty crops are in neighboring fields will increase the incidence of damage to non-target crops. The Save Our Crops Coalition, a national organization representing more than 2,000 farm groups, including the Organic Valley Cooperative, Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association, and major food processors Seneca and Red Gold, submitted comments opposing Dowâ€™s earlier petition to release 2,4-D-tolerant corn.
The New York Times reported that the apple under review has been genetically modified to delay the browning of its flesh after slicing. The genetically modified apples, which are being developed in both Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, contain a synthetic gene that sharply reduces production of polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme responsible for the browning. The added gene sequence does not come from another species, but rather from sequences found in four of the appleâ€™s own genes that govern production of polyphenol oxidase. Putting an extra copy of a gene into a plant can activate a self-defense mechanism known as RNA interference that shuts down both the extra copy and the endogenous gene. USDA review of the genetically modified apple petition will be crucial because commercial sale of the fruit will not require testing or approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Farmers do not have to remain stuck on a pesticide treadmill that demands ever greater amounts of synthetic inputs, including GE seeds, 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 most genetically engineered organisms have been marketed as solving, though they have, in fact, exacerbated them.
Source: USDA press release
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.