by Dr. Mercola
February 11, 2012
Agent Orange, produced by both Monsanto and Dow Chemicals, was used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War.
During that time, millions of gallons of the toxic chemical mixture were sprayed on trees and vegetation, and the aftermath left hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese sick, with countless numbers of their children suffering birth defects, and a still growing group of U.S. veterans with related diseases ranging from cancer to Parkinson’s disease.
Agent Orange was a horrific chemical concoction that never should have been used, and if you want to see some of its effects on children who were exposed in the womb, you can do so here — but I warn you the photos are very graphic and upsetting.
Agent Orange is no longer produced — so why am I bringing it up now?
Because Dow AgroSciences (a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals), who was one of the original manufacturers of Agent Orange (AO), has developed a new generation of genetically modified (GM) crops — soybeans, corn and cotton — that are designed to resist a major ingredient in AO: the herbicide called 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D).
The use of 2,4-D, however, is not new, as it is actually one of the most widely used herbicides in the world.
What is new – and disturbingly so – is that now that staple crops like soy and corn have been engineered to be resistant to 2,4-D, it may soon be applied to U.S. arable land on an unprecedented scale — not unlike its indiscriminate application during Vietnam.
The whole point of engineering resistance to an herbicide within a GMO plant, of course, is so that you can “carpet bomb” an entire field, leaving only your “Frankenfoods” standing, without having to exert even a fraction of the effort required raise crops organically and sustainably.
In fact, if 2,4-D resistant crops receive approval and eventually come to replace Monsanto’s failing Roundup-resistant crops as Dow intends, it is likely that billions of pounds will be needed, on top of the already insane levels of Roundup now being used (1.6 billion lbs were used in 2007 in the US alone!).
Agent Orange Ingredient to be Used in GMO Crops
Dow’s new GM product, dubbed “Enlist,” is a three-gene, herbicide-tolerant soybean that has been engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s popular Roundup herbicide, along with glufosinate and 2,4-D. The company expects to earn $1.5 billion in additional profit in 2013 by selling these triple herbicide-resistant seeds. As noted by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs:
“The two active ingredients in the Agent Orange herbicide combination were equal amounts of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), which contained traces of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD).”
Ironically, while Dow’s new crops would seriously escalate the use of 2,4-D, Monsanto is currently facing a class-action lawsuit involving the other Agent Orange ingredient, 2,4,5-T. The suit alleges that homes and schools near one of its 2,4,5-T chemical plants are nowcontaminated with cancer-causing dioxin, a byproduct of the manufacturing process. This should be a wake-up call to those considering widespread application of any toxic Agent Orange ingredient.
Dow, however, is touting the new product as a solution to Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM crops, which currently dominate the GM seed market but are now being overshadowed by problems with weed resistance (not to mention that glyphosate itself is also incredibly toxic, and has been linked to infertility, among other serious health problems).
Where Monsanto has failed, Dow and other chemical rivals like DuPont, Syngenta, and Bayer (which are also working on their own herbicide-resistant GM seeds) see opportunity. So Dow has trotted in on their white horse to offer a new variety of GM crop, which they say will not pose the “superweed” problem that Roundup Ready crops have created.
This is not so, according to an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which researchers state that suggesting 2,4-D will not lead to widespread weed resistance “misrepresented the potential for 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D)–resistant weeds in 2,4-D–resistant cropping systems and exaggerated the sustainability of their approach to addressing glyphosate-resistant weed problems in agriculture.”
They, in fact, note 28 species across 16 plant families that have already evolved resistance to similar herbicides to 2,4-D. Further, asstated on GreenMedInfo, the new Enlist crops are setting the stage for even greater and simultaneous herbicide use, the health ramifications of which are completely unknown:
“Instead of learning from Monsanto’s colossal mistakes (which happens when you play geneticist-as-God and use a broad spectrum poison to kill all but your “chosen” plants) Dow AgroScience’s solution is to multiply the problem by a factor of three, creating the “first-ever, three-gene,” herbicide-tolerant staple crops.
What this means is that instead of using only one highly toxic herbicide (Roundup), three will be used simultaneously, further increasing the risk of serious exposures, and setting up the conditions for synergistic toxicities – something that toxicological risk assessments on singular herbicide ingredients, which establish “an acceptable level of harm,” never account for.”
Studies Show Increases in Cancer, Birth Defects With Use of 2,4-D
What is known about 2,4-D so far is not reassuring, considering the devastation caused by Agent Orange. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding 2,4-D specifically:
“Health effects of chronic or acute 2,4-D exposure reported for adults included blood, liver, and kidney toxicity. Specific effects included a reduction in hemoglobin and red blood cell numbers, decreased liver enzyme activity, and increased kidney weight. Acute exposure can result in skin and eye irritation. 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.
Experimental animal studies of chronic oral exposure have reported adverse effects on the eye, thyroid, kidney, adrenals, and ovaries/testes. In addition, some experimental animal studies have reported teratogenic effects (birth defects) at high doses, including increased fetal death, urinary tract malformation, and extra ribs.
When adult female experimental animals were exposed to 2,4-D during their pregnancy and lactation periods, their exposed offspring exhibited neurological effects, including delayed neurobehavioral development and changes in several neurotransmitter levels or binding activities and ganglioside levels in the brain. Delayed neurobehavioral development was manifested as delays in acquisition of certain motor skills such as the righting reflex.”
The glaring problem, of course, is that with approval of Dow’s new GM crops, the use of 2,4-D could skyrocket out of control. As reported by The Cornucopia Institute:
“”The concern is that, just like Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn that is resistant to RoundUp™ (glyphosate) herbicide, the approval of a cultivar resistant to 2,4-D will cause an exponential increase in the use of this toxic agrichemical,” says Mark A. Kastel, senior farm policy analyst with The Cornucopia Institute.
And again, as the EPA acknowledges, this is far from a benign chemical. The Cornucopia Institute continues:
“2,4-D is a chlorophenoxy herbicide, and scientists around the world have reported increased cancer risks in association with its use, especially for soft tissue sarcoma and malignant lymphoma. Four separate studies in the United States reported an association with chlorophenoxy herbicide use and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
… Research by the EPA found that babies born in counties with high rates of 2,4-D application to farm fields were 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 were 60% to 90% more likely in counties with higher 2,4-D application rates. The results also showed a higher likelihood of birth defects in babies conceived in the spring, when herbicide application rates peak.”
Weed Scientist Says, “We Told You So”
In the same way that Dow is now certain that its new three-gene, herbicide-tolerant soybean will not spur the creation of more herbicide-resistant “super weeds,” Monsanto was also historically adamant that Roundup Ready crops would not cause weed resistance either.
Of course, now that the die has been cast, the United States is reaping the consequences with 13 resistant weed species covering more than 11 million acres, mostly those planted with Monsanto’s GM soy, corn and cotton crops. Around the world, 21 weed species are now resistant to glyphosate, up from zero in 1996.
The weeds are making Monsanto’s promises that their GM crops would reduce pesticide use completely laughable — since farmers are being forced to use multiple, and more, pesticides to keep weeds in their GM crops under control — and are turning out to be a very big thorn in Monsanto’s proverbial side.
Monsanto’s solution is similar to Dow’s … add more herbicide-resistant genes to the plants so even more potent herbicide cocktails can be poured over U.S. farmland! According to Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant, who was interviewed in Business Week, the company plans to add resistance to Dicamba, another weedkiller, to Roundup Ready crops by 2015, noting that:
“The cavalry is coming.”
The cavalry is coming indeed … unfortunately they are working for the wrong side, with their “war on weeds” causing massive collateral damage to environmental and human health alike. William G. Johnson, a weed scientist at Purdue University, told Business Week, these new technologies may control Roundup-resistant weeds and leave us in “wedded bliss for 10 or 15 years” but “they do select for their own failure:”
“Now that it has kind of blown up, it’s like, ‘We told you so,'” he says.
Adding further insult to injury, Johnson explains that “Dicamba and 2,4-D both tend to volatilize, turning the chemicals into vapor that can drift onto neighboring land … ” accidentally killing nearby crops and exposing greater expanses to its toxic effects.
Let us also not forget that all the “weeds” these herbicides were designed to kill represent biodiversity, without which we would be left with only a handful of staple crops — upon which our entire subsistence now precariously depends. Only because we do not find obvious value in a plant, does not mean it is not there.
Emerson once said: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
Indeed, when we target as “the enemy” any living plant that does not bear the favored qualities of a GM plant, and use the slash-and-burn, herbicidal approach to eradicate any competing plant life form, we are basically declaring war on the biosphere itself, and thereby setting up the future conditions for the collapse of our entire food production system, as well as poisoning ourselves in the process. Without biodiversity, monoculturing puts “too many eggs in one basket,” virtually guaranteeing future crop collapses and famine. In a nutshell, industrial herbicides (and the GM plants designed to thrive when exposed to them), are a dead end – both figuratively, and literally.
Now’s the Time to Take Action!
Dow has applied for non-regulated status of its 2,4-D-resistant corn, and you have until February 27, 2012 to comment on the petition. Please let your opinion be heard that approving more herbicide-tolerant crops is not the solution to ending “super weeds”; the real solution lies in eliminating the genetically modified crops that created them in the first place!
As Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides told The Cornucopia Institute:
“In 2012 the USDA is proposing approving a new GE corn variety that is resistant to a different toxic herbicide, escalating the toxic treadmill in chemical-dependent agriculture. This is nothing more than a band-aid solution to a serious problem, and will only give rise to more superweeds, more herbicide pollution in our environment, more herbicide poisoning, while likely leading to the need for even more toxic herbicides a couple of years down the line. This foolish circle has to end.”
It’s quite clear that genetically engineered foods are not only threatening the food supply with the creation of herbicide-resistant weeds, but they can also pose potentially serious threats to animal and human health when consumed. Fortunately, now you, too, can let your opinion be heard on this issue. Several organizations, including Mercola.com, the Organic Consumers Association, the Institute for Responsible Technology, and the Environmental Working Group, are working to generate a tipping point of consumer rejection to make GMOs a thing of the past.
Here’s how you can get involved:
- If you live in California and are willing to attend a short training session and then start collecting petition signatures (you will be part of a team of 2-4 people) for the California Ballot Initiative, sign up here. (For more information see: The California Ballot Initiative: Taking Down Monsanto.) Also remember to share this information with family and friends in California!
- Whether you live in California or not, please donate money to this historic effort.
- Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the California Ballot. It may be the only chance we have to require the proper labeling of genetically engineered foods.
- Distribute WIDELY the Non-GMO Shopping Guide to help you identify and avoid foods with GMOs. Look for products (including organic products) that feature the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal to be sure that at-risk ingredients have been tested for GMO content. You can also download the free iPhone application that is available from the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.
- For timely updates, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter
- Look for in-depth coverage of the issue at the Institute for Responsible Technology, subscribe to Spilling the Beans, and check out their Facebook or Twitter.
- You can also join the Non-GMO Project on Facebook, or Twitter
In the meantime, the simplest way to avoid GM foods is to buy whole, certified organic foods. By definition, foods that are certified organic must never intentionally use GM organisms, must be produced without artificial pesticides and fertilizers and come from an animal reared without the routine use of antibiotics, growth promoters or other drugs. Additionally, grass-fed beef will not have been fed GM corn feed, although now that GM alfalfa is approved, grass-fed will not always mean GMO free. You can also look for foods that are“non-GMO verified” by the Non-GMO Project.
Important Action Item: Support California’s Ballot Initiative to Label GMO’s!
In 2007, then-Presidential candidate Obama promised to “immediately” require GM labeling if elected. So far, nothing of the sort has transpired.