(Beyond Pesticides, September 19, 2014) The pesticide treadmill continues to turn with the U.S. Department of Agricultureâs (USDA) recent approval this week of three 2,4-D-tolerto ant corn and soybean crops, developed by Dow AgroSciences.
Some growers have been pushing for the new Enlist crops in order to combat the rapid proliferation of glyphosate-resistant weeds. The use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsantoâs Roundup formulation, on genetically-engineered (GE) crops has proven to be an abject failure due to widespread weed resistance. So widespread is this resistance that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasÂ granted an emergency use exemptionÂ for fluridone, which does not have registered uses in agriculture.Â More recently, Texas regulators requested the use of propazine to combat glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth, or pigweed, which EPA recently denied,Â citing risks to drinking water and other hazards.Â Even though the agency denied the emergency use application, it accepted the argument put forth by the Texas Department of Agriculture that Â glyphosate-resistant weeds in three million acres of herbicide-tolerant cotton constituted anÂ “urgent non-routine situation.”Â Beyond Pesticides argued to EPA that the weed resistance inÂ herbicide-tolerant cropping systems is very predictable and has become routine, thus disqualifying states from using the emergency exemption provision or Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide,Â Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).Â Â A 2011 studyÂ in the journalÂ Weed ScienceÂ found at least 21 different species of weeds to be resistant to applications of Monsantoâs Roundup.
Although touted to address this problem of resistance,Â researchÂ reveals weed resistance to 2,4-D is alreadyÂ developing in areas of the western U.S., even without the presence of herbicide-ready crops. Additionally, despite assertions to the contrary, a 2012 report shows that GE crops are responsible for anÂ increase of 404 million pounds of pesticides, or about 7%, in the U.S. over the first 16 years of commercial use of GE crops (1996-2011). USDAâs own analysis finds that approval of 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans will lead to an unprecedented 2- to 7-fold increase in agricultural use of the herbicide by 2020, from 26 million to as much as 176 million pounds per year.Â Even at current use levels, 2,4-D drift is responsible for more episodes of crop injury than any other herbicide. These alarming and ongoing problems point to systematic deficiencies in the current regulatory system and pesticide-use paradigmânew GE crops will not âsolveâ resistance issues, but merely push the problems of weed management further down the road.
2,4-DÂ is a chlorophenoxy herbicide that kills broadleaf weeds by inducing rapid growth. The chemical has been linked to numerous human health problems, including cancer, particularlyÂ soft tissue sarcomaÂ andÂ non-Hodgkinâs lymphoma, neurotoxicity, kidney/liver damage, and harm to the reproductive system. 2,4,-D is made up roughly half of the herbicide known as Agent Orange, which was used to defoliate forests and croplands in the Vietnam War.Â Research by EPA suggests that babies born in counties where high rates of chlorophenoxy herbicides are applied to farm fields are significantly more likely to be born with birth defects of the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as defects of the musculoskeletal system like clubfoot, fused digits, and extra digits. These birth defects are 60% to 90% more likely in counties with higher 2,4-D application rates. The results also show a higher likelihood of birth defects in babies conceived in the spring, when herbicide application rates peak.
Public opposition to this move has been clear. Over the 60-day public comment period, which ended back in March, USDA received over 10,000 comments on its draft environmental impact statement and plant pest risk assessments. Of these comments, over 88%, including Beyond Pesticides, were opposed to the non-regulated status of the Enlist varieties. During a recent 30-day âreview periodâ in August for the final environmental impact statement, the agency received 969 submissions. Again the majority did not support deregulation. Additionally the agency received over 240,000 signatures from three non-government organizations opposing the deregulation of the Enlist crops.
The chemical and biotechnology giant Dow AgroSciences is now awaiting approval by EPA of Enlist Duo, a mix of glyphosate and a new formulation of 2,4-D, that is to be used with the corn and soybean crops. (See Beyond Pesticidesâ comments opposing this here). At the same time, an additional set of GE crops developed by Monsanto and resistant to another herbicide called dicamba, is also awaiting EPA approval.
Pursuing sustainable alternatives can prevent the pesticide treadmill that results from the use of GE crops and pesticides like glyphosate. Ecological pest management strategies, organic practices, and solutions that are not chemical-intensive are the most appropriate and long-term solution to battling pigweed. Additionally, organic agriculture is an ecologically-based management system that prioritizes cultural, biological, 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 falsely-marketed as solving. To learn more about organic agriculture, seeÂ Beyond Pesticides Organic Program Page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.