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The bad news: Both Monsanto and Dow have developed—and have applied for USDA approval on—new crops that have increased resis­tance to even dead­lier pes­ti­cides. The good news: Thanks to con­sis­tent pres­sure from the Center for Food Safety (CFS), this approval has been halted for sev­eral years and will prob­a­bly be stopped altogether.

“Need” for Deadlier Pesticides

Some of the ear­li­est genet­i­cally engi­neered crops were devel­oped to be resis­tant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide—so-called Roundup Ready crops. Now, years down the road, we’re see­ing the results of what was promised to be decreased her­bi­cide use.

“It’s ironic that one of the big early claims about GMOs was that they were sup­posed to reduce pes­ti­cide use,” Bill Freese, CFS sci­ence pol­icy ana­lyst, told Organic Connections. “That’s sim­ply not true; it’s just the opposite.

“Soybeans, corn, cot­ton and canola have been genet­i­cally engi­neered to with­stand spray­ing with Roundup her­bi­cide. They’re grown on about 150 mil­lion acres in the United States. They’ve had some really adverse impacts. We have a whole epi­demic now of weeds that have become resis­tant to Roundup, on the same prin­ci­ple by which bac­te­ria become resis­tant to antibi­otics when they are overused.”

The biotech indus­try has arrived at a “solu­tion” for this prob­lem. “It turns out that if you’re Monsanto and Dow, the solu­tion is to engi­neer crops for resis­tance to more toxic her­bi­cides,” Freese said. “That’s where these new crops come in. They’re being mar­keted as the sup­posed solu­tion to Roundup-resistant weeds.”

Increased Toxicity

For CFS, the heart of this issue lies in the dan­ger of the pes­ti­cides these pro­posed crops will resist.

“The new crops up for approval include sev­eral vari­eties of corn and soy­beans resis­tant to Dow Chemical’s 2,4-D,” Freese explained. “2,4-D is one of the old­est her­bi­cides, first intro­duced in 1945. It became most famous as part of Agent Orange, used in the Vietnam War. It’s a very potent her­bi­cide. It’s been asso­ci­ated with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent human health issues includ­ing increased rates of can­cer, espe­cially in farm­ers who use this herbicide.

“We’ve all come to note com­pounds called diox­ins, very highly toxic sub­stances that are in the envi­ron­ment. It turns out that 2,4-D is con­t­a­m­i­nated with diox­ins. If 2,4-D-resistant corn and soy­beans are intro­duced, we’ll have a really big increase in the use of this toxic her­bi­cide. That’s not good for peo­ple, not good for the envi­ron­ment, and ulti­mately not good for farm­ers either.”

Also on the approval line are crops resis­tant to Monsanto’s Dicamba her­bi­cide, which has like­wise been linked to severe health hazards.

“Pretty soon the weeds will be resis­tant to not only Roundup but 2,4-D and Dicamba as well,” Freese pointed out. “Then the com­pa­nies will come out with new crops resis­tant to mul­ti­ple her­bi­cides. It’s what I like to call the ‘toxic spi­ral’ of increas­ing toxic her­bi­cide use and resis­tance in weeds. These herbicide-resistant crops are what spur that toxic spi­ral, which is why we have to stop them.”

Drift

An addi­tional dan­ger such crops bring is pes­ti­cide drift into other farm­ers’ fields.

“Drift is another seri­ous issue,” Freese con­tin­ued. “Both those two herbicides—2,4-D and Dicamba—are very volatile and tend to drift an awful lot. If a farmer next to you is grow­ing those crops and spray­ing those her­bi­cides, you could get a drift onto your crops and have some severe dam­age from even low lev­els of drift. It can cause sig­nif­i­cant yield loss. You can actu­ally see the impacts—your crop could start to shrivel up. Or it could be more sub­tle and you don’t see too many effects, but down the line your yield goes way down.”

GE Approval Progress Ground to a Halt

From the first moment these new crops were sub­mit­ted for USDA approval, CFS was on the line mak­ing its voice heard. “We’ve been fol­low­ing the admin­is­tra­tive process very closely,” Freese related. “The USDA has the pri­mary author­ity over these crops, so we’ve sub­mit­ted very detailed com­pre­hen­sive science-based com­ments to the USDA explain­ing why they shouldn’t approve them.

“The USDA doesn’t like to lis­ten to us very much, but we’ve sued them and we’ve won before, so they real­ize that they have to take us seriously.”

And lis­ten they indeed did.

“Just this morn­ing it came out that the USDA has agreed to do Environmental Impact Statements on the 2,4-D- and Dicamba-resistant crops that are pend­ing approval,” said Freese. “What does that mean? The USDA nor­mally does a cur­sory kind of an assess­ment called an Environmental Assessment, after which they always rec­om­mend approval. This time they’ve agreed to do a full Environmental Impact Statement, which is a much more in-depth review of the crops. It will prob­a­bly take a cou­ple of years.

“Originally Dow said that they were going to intro­duce their 2,4-D-resistant corn this year. Then a few months ago they said, ‘We’re not going to be able to do it this year, so next year.’ Now it’s clear that it won’t be intro­duced sooner than 2015—if even then—because this process has to take place.”

A Win

The fact that the USDA is con­duct­ing the EIS vol­un­tar­ily con­sti­tutes a win for CFS. “The only two Environmental Impact Statements that have been done in the past have been under court order because of our law­suits,” Freese indi­cated. “We sued the USDA on approv­ing Roundup Ready Alfalfa and Roundup Ready Sugar Beets. In both cases we won those law­suits, and the judge in both instances said, ‘You know you shouldn’t have approved these crops.’ They reversed the approval for each of those crops and said, ‘You have to do an Environmental Impact Statement and really con­sider the issues that CFS raised.’ This is the first time that they’ve done an EIS voluntarily.”

This vic­tory is most def­i­nitely not the end of the story. “Our goal is to stop these crops, to pre­vent them from being introduced—not just to delay but to pre­vent them,” Freese con­cluded. “These EISs give us some breath­ing room to do that.”

For the lat­est from CFS, please visit the Food Safety Action Center on the Organic Connections web­site.

Or visit the Center for Food Safety at www.centerforfoodsafety.org.

Source:  http://organicconnectmag.com/wp/center-for-food-safety-halts-new-ge-crops/#.UZn_W6LVB8E

 

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