Enlist Herbicide: The New GMO Threat We Need to Stop

Are we seriously considering more toxic GMO crops?

June 4, 2014

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The Enlist herbicide Dow Agrosciences wants to start using on a new generation of genetically engineered (GE) crops would result in at least a threefold increase in use of the toxic herbicide 2,4-D. We should all cringe about that, since 2,4-D was used as a component of Agent Orange, a toxic compound used during the Vietnam War to strip dense jungle trees of their foliage. The chemical isn't gentle on our bodies, either—it's linked to serious health problems like Parkinson's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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Despite the clear health and environmental threats documented over the years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to allow Dow to market a toxic weedkiller called Enlist Duo, a new formulation that contains both 2,4-D and glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup. (Scientists just found that glyphosate alone increases your risk of lymphoma.)

Why "stack" two pesticides together? GE technology is failing. The current GE crops of choice are designed to survive being sprayed with glyphosate. Weeds have readily adapted, though, so now nonorganic farmers are turning to even more dangerous chemicals. The EPA is considering the potent new herbicide for use on new GE corn and soy seeds, also developed by Dow. If the plan offered by EPA is adopted it will result in the largest expansion of an herbicide use in more than three decades. The United States Department of Agriculture says that if these new GE corn and soy crops are allowed on the market, annual 2,4-D use on crops could rise to between 77.8 and 176.2 million pounds annually by 2020. This would represent 3 to 7 times the usage recorded in 2011, when about 25.6 million pounds of 2,4-D were sprayed on U.S. crops, Environmental Working Group (EWG) points out.

More From Rodale News: 'Extreme' Levels of Roundup Detected in Food

"The Obama administration has not done the necessary scientific research to determine the health and environmental risks of large-scale expansion of 2,4-D spraying on crops," says Mary Ellen Kustin, a senior policy analyst with EWG. "The mountain of evidence linking 2,4-D with serious health problems in people, including cancer, should stop wholesale approval of the largest expansion of toxic herbicide spraying in decades."

Rodale News turned to EWG to see how the new Enlist herbicide and new GE seeds could affect your life.

Your body. Researchers have linked 2,4-D to hypothyroidism, suppressed immune function, Parkinson's disease, cancer, and other serious disorders. Animal studies also show 2,4-D disrupts normal hormone function and is linked to reproductive diseases. A 2007 University of Minnesota study of farm families from licensed herbicide applicators in Minnesota and North Carolina found that 2,4-D levels in the bodies of children between the ages of 4 and 12 years were about three times higher than levels in older children.

Your garden and favorite organic farm. It moves! Once sprayed, 2,4-D readily transforms into a gas and floats onto nearby and distant fields—or into your garden—where it can mangle other beloved crops. In California in 2012, drifting 2,4-D wiped out nearly 15,000 acres of cotton and a pomegranate orchard. Even at the current levels of use, 2,4-D is responsible for more episodes of drift-related crop injury than any other herbicide.

Your pets. Yards, fields, and water contaminated with 2,4-D could impact your pet, too. A 2004 study by Purdue University scientists showed that Scottish terriers exposed to lawns treated with herbicides such as 2,4-D had greater risk of bladder cancer compared to other terriers. A 1991 National Cancer Institute study found that just four lawn treatments a year significantly increased malignant lymphoma risk for exposed dogs. Domestic animals accidentally exposed to large quantities of 2,4-D can suffer lethargy, weakness, vomiting and convulsions.

More From Rodale News: 10 Crazy Things Pesticides Are Doing to Your Body

Your local wildlife. According to the EPA's own stats, increased 2,4-D use would threaten 53 endangered species, and that's just in the Midwest. The Enlist herbicide also puts struggling honeybees at risk. EWG found even short-term exposure can lead to toxic symptoms in bees, including reduced coordination, loss of equilibrium, hyper-excitability, lethargy, immobility, and death. 2,4-D drift could also wipe out plants along fields, roadways, and in your yard, destroying critical pollinator hotspots that insects like monarch butterflies need to survive.

To stop this new Enlist herbicide chemical assault, sign this petition.