On January 7, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened up a 45-day period for public comment on its decision to deregulate a new generation of genetically modified (GM) soybeans and corn. Older GM crops were invented to withstand treatment with glyphosate (Roundup) and a few other herbicides, but now weeds are becoming resistant, so more chemicals are needed. Big Ag wants to roll out GM corn and soybean varieties that can resist 2,4-D, an old yet volatile herbicide famous for its ability to drift where it is not supposed to go. Exposure has been linked to lowered sperm counts, lymphoma, disrupted thyroid functioning and other health problems. Bad batches have been found to be laced with dioxin, a potent carcinogen that enters the food chain and stays.
The EPA has decided that the new GM varieties should not be regulated, at all, despite predictions by scientists that doing so may result in a “profound increase” in the amount of 2,4-D applied to farmland. You have until midnight on February 24, 2014, to make your voice heard. After that, it’s a done deal.
The issue at hand is simple: Should new GM varieties developed for resistance to 2,4-D herbicides continue to be regulated, or not? They will probably be allowed to be grown — that question is not on the docket — but will the EPA have the right and responsibility to monitor these new GM crops? Here are the choices:
Alternative 1: No action, which means that regulation will continue as it is now, with active monitoring by the USDA. The EPA doesn’t want to do this because it has closed its eyes and ears to any risks posed by these genetically modified crops and radically increased use of 2,4-D herbicide. It sees no need to “ensure physical and reproductive confinement” of the new GM corn and soybeans and waves off data gaps about 2,4-D that have been accepted for decades. If you think GM crops should be monitored and confined, you should say so in your comment by strongly favoring “Alternative 1: No action.” The EPA has a button for this response.
Alternative 2: Complete nonregulation, which means the new GM varieties will no longer be subject to government biotechnology regulations. More such varieties could be released with no monitoring of any kind. Dow AgriSciences would have total authority over where the varieties are grown, with no reporting required. This is the way the EPA wants to go. Do you agree or disagree? The big risk is total planetary pollution of soybean and corn genetics. Are you for or against Alternative 2?
Alternative 3: Deregulate only corn. Because it is a grass, corn is naturally tolerant of 2,4-D herbicides, which often are used by commercial growers. This change would probably lead to increases in use, but not on the scale of Alternative 2 or 4. Much depends on how much the new GM seeds will cost, and how bad problems have become with Roundup-resistant weeds. Maybe Dow will try and fail. Do you want to let them try, using corn as the test subject?
Alternative 4: Deregulate only soybeans. Like other broadleaf plants, soybeans are easily damaged by 2,4-D, with the same side-effect of herbicide drift often seen in home garden tomatoes — puckered new growth and twisted stems. Deregulating 2,4-D-tolerant GM soybean varieties creates a huge new market for these herbicides in farm fields that formerly were off limits because of crop sensitivities. Environmental threats to water, native plants, and animal and human health increase as more 2,4-D is used. Please note: 2,4-D is a 50-year old chemical manufactured as a generic in many countries, including China, India, Russia and the United States. Effective product quality-control does not exist, as Australian investigators found after the banned carcinogen dioxin was identified as an “undeclared impurity” in many 2,4-D products. Their registration was subsequently cancelled.
Those are the issues, and the players are Dow AgroSciences, you, and a government bureaucracy tied up in its own red tape. The EPA follows a judicial model in which it acts as judge and jury, and the 45-day comment period is a rare chance to voice your opinion on its actions. If you totally trust Dow as a model world citizen (as the EPA has decided to do), you can go do something else now. Otherwise, follow this link to give the EPA the direction it needs.
Photo by Fotolia/margaretwallace
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.