The Biggest Food System Threat of 2012
The Biggest Food System Threat of 2012
Although demand for organic is up, new GMO threats still linger, including a crop designed to be sprayed with a toxic chemical used in warfare.
While you were hastily baking cookies and celebrating the holiday season, chemical companies were quietly asking the government to approve a dangerous new genetically engineered crop designed to withstand heavy sprayings of an old chemical used in warfare decades ago. Chemical corporations are resurrecting these dangerous compounds because newer pesticides used in high amounts are no longer working—weeds are actually outsmarting the chemical compounds and evolving into resistant, hard-to-kill superweeds.
Despite the big push for organic, Dow Agrosciences is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow farmers unrestricted use of a new genetically engineered corn seed created to withstand heavy sprayings of the herbicide 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange, the toxic compound used to defoliate forests and croplands during the Vietnam War. The product is also linked to lymphoma and other cancers.
While 2,4-D is already used in some lawn treatments and on some crops, creating GE, aka GMO, varieties allows farmers to spray even larger amounts on crops without killing them. But this chemical is anything but harmless. Environmental Protection Agency researchers found that babies born in counties with high rates of 2,4-D applications faced a 60- to 90-percent higher rate of respiratory and circulatory birth defects, and problems like clubfoot and fused or extra fingers or toes. The greatest risk occurred when women became pregnant in the spring, when pesticide application rates are the highest.
Chemical companies often say GE crops will reduce the use of pesticides, but the opposite is actually true. “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 Kastel, farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, an advocacy group for sustainable family farms.
If this GMO crop is released, many weed scientists and pesticide experts say it’s only a matter of time, probably a few years, until weeds become resistant to 2,4-D, too. “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,” says Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “This foolish circle has to end.”
In other GMO news, Monsanto, the company responsible for the massive quantities of the Roundup chemical weedkiller in our air, water, and soil, is petitioning to have its new GMO soybeans approved. These soybeans were genetically tampered with to inject higher, unnatural levels of omega-3s in the beans. Like all GMOs, the finished product has never been tested for its impact on human health. “Genetically engineering a ubiquitous monoculture crop to contain higher levels of just one particular nutrient will not solve our public health crisis, and might even exacerbate it, since a healthy diet is about much more than simply increasing the levels of one particular omega-3 fatty acid,” says Charlotte Vallaeys, director of farm and food policy at Cornucopia Institute. “It’s another Band-Aid solution that will do little to address the root of the problem with our nation’s “nutrition problem,” which is people eating too many processed foods containing corn and soybean derivatives, and not eating a varied diet of nutrient-rich wholesome foods.”
Over the holidays, USDA also announced its approval of a new type of corn genetically engineered to withstand droughts. Interestingly, data from the Rodale Institute shows that corn grown in organically managed soil is drought tolerant without the help of toxic chemicals. USDA made its decision to approve this “drought-tolerant” corn despite the fact that 45,000 people petitioned against it. “President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack just sent a clear message to the American public that they do not care about our concerns with genetically engineered food and their questionable safety, adverse environmental impacts, and detrimental effects on farmers, especially organic farmers,” says Kastel.