The New GMO Threatening Your Health

A toxic old weed killer could make a big comeback if a chemical company with a sketchy past gets its way.

January 10, 2014


2,4-d is a nightmarish chemical. An ingredient used in Agent Orange, the toxic compound was used to strip forests of foliage during the Vietnam War. It's also been linked to cancer, infertility, and dangerous changes to hormone levels.


Right now, it's used as a weed killer in some lawn and farm chemicals, but its use is about to go WAY up unless the general public can stop the United States Department of Agriculture from approving it for use in new types of genetically engineered corn and soy crops.

The USDA recently took steps to green light the approval of Dow Agrosciences' 2,4-D-resistant corn and soy GMO seeds. When a seed is genetically manipulated to withstand heavy doses of weed killers that would normally kill the plant, farmers start using drastically higher levels of that chemical.

Skyrocketing Use of a Dangerous Old Chemical
For instance, veteran agricultural scientists Charles Benbrook, PhD, research professor at Washington State University, says if the GMO approval goes through and widespread planting of Dow's brand name "Enlist" GMO corn ensues, levels of 2,4-D chemicals sprayed on American soil will likely increase to 100 million pounds by 2019. In fact, some scientists believe giving Dow the green light for this new GMO could result in a 25-fold increase in 2,4-D use over the next several years.

An Assault on Farmer's Market Favorites
It may sound far-fetched, but more 2,4-D floating around means more mangled vegetables. Here's why: Notorious for not staying where it's applied, 2,4-D readily volatilizes into a gas and has been documented to travel up to 100 miles, where it can taint organic fields, deform or straight-up kill healthy vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, some fruits, and other farmer's market treasures, and harm children's health. It also threatens the fabric industry—it's been documented to destroy cotton. Perhaps that's nearly half a million people—including many organic and family farmers, public health experts, and everyday citizens—have pleaded with the USDA to reject Dow's approval of this dangerous new GMO.

Important to note: Monsanto has a similarly dangerous GMO on the table waiting for approval. That one's called dicamba and also readily turns into a gas and drifts, threatening organic and vegetable and fruit crops.

Superweed Central
Right now, the chemical of choice is Roundup (glyphosate), but like all farm chemicals, weeds eventually outsmart the chemical within a few years and develop resistance. This leads to disastrous effects, including heavier sprayings, higher levels of pesticides inside of the foods we eat, and the development of superweeds. Some superweed infestations are so severe that American farmers have abandoned millions of acres of farmland. Sounds like GMOs aren't exactly all they're cracked up to be, huh?

Interestingly, organic farming trials have shown equal—or better—yields when comparing organic growing to GMO methods. Organic techniques like crop rotation, cover crops, and focus on improving soil health are all viable ways to grow healthy crops without using toxic chemicals that lose their effectiveness quickly when converted to GMO crops.

"There's a pretty short shelf life in terms of the economic value of many of these genetically engineered cultivars," explains Mark Kastel, co-founder and senior farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit promoting family-scale sustainable farming. "The question has always been not a matte of 'if' but rather 'when' weeds will develop resistance to the chosen herbicide."

Health Effects
2,4-D has been linked to certain cancers, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. But here's the REALLY scary part. GMOs are never tested to look for long-term impacts on human health. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't consider GMOs different from other seeds, and the companies that stand to profit from selling their GMO seed and chemical packages are the ones who have to provide flimsy evidence showing they are "safe." Those corporate studies don't look at health problems that could turn up decades—or generations—down the line. So far, GMOs have been linked to digestive diseases, accelerated aging, and food allergies, among other ills. Pesticides are associated with problems like ADHD, lower IQs, many different types of cancer, auto-immune diseases, and Parkinson's disease, among others.

Stop 2,4-D in Its Tracks
Even without the GMO approval, which would drastically increase use of the chemical, 2,4-D drift is already responsible for more episodes of crop injury than any other herbicide. If you want to keep this volatile chemical out of the air, soil, water—and your food—make sure to submit your comments to USDA before Feb. 24, 2014. Sign Pesticide Action Network's petition to stop 2,4-D GMOs from going mainstream, or comment through the government's website.