Dow Chemical, the same company that brought us Dursban, Napalm, and Agent Orange, is pushing for government approval of GM corn and soybeans designed to survive dousing with 2,4-D, an ingredient of Agent Orange
Tell the USDA to stop Dow Chemical’s "Agent Orange" crops (sign petition)
Meanwhile Argentina has approved a new 2,4-D-tolerant soybean, meaning it'll be turning up in the rest of the world's animal feed and human food very soon. You can send an email to the President asking her to reverse this approval.
1. Fait Accompli — USDA decision on herbicide-resistant crops betrays farmers and the public
2. Urgent: 2,4-D crops approved in Argentina - Take Action!
1. Fait Accompli — USDA decision on herbicide-resistant crops betrays farmers and the public]
The Equation/Union of Concerned Scientists, 8 Jan 2014
On Friday, January 3, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This clears the way for approval of engineered soybeans and corn resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D, pending a final EIS and pesticide tolerances from EPA.
As I noted in my last post, and in our new short report on GMO crops resistant to 2,4-D and dicamba, these crops will only exacerbate resistant weed problems and environmental risks. 2.4-D has also been associated with human health risks, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is considered by some health agencies to be a possible human carcinogen. The herbicide is also notorious for causing severe damage to many fruit and vegetable crops from drift after spray application. Despite these problems, some of which were acknowledged by USDA, the agency claimed that its existing regulations require approval (called deregulation in USDA parlance).
The legal basis for USDA regulation
As the agency notes, NEPA is largely a procedural law, and it is generally agreed that it does not provide for interventions like preventing the commercialization of GMO crops.
The legal authority to prevent the commercialization of a GMO instead is found in the 2000 Plant Protection Act (PPA). Under this law, USDA decides whether the engineered crop can be deregulated based on whether it is a plant pest. But a plant pest is not something that is usually associated with crops, or even weeds. Instead, as the term suggests and as the law specifies, plant pests are typically plant diseases, caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses, or nematodes (microscopic worms).
The only plants that typically fall under the definition of a plant pest are parasites like broomrape or striga. The large majority of weeds, or GMO crops, would not be parasitic, even if they caused harm. Because the law covers indirect harm to crops, it is not out of the question that USDA could stretch the definition of a plant pest to include GMO crops. But the historic use of the term, and the organisms specified by the law, mitigate against this, and could allow for legal challenge.
USDA explains the plant pest provisions in the executive summary of the draft EIS this way:
APHIS’s regulations require that APHIS make decisions on the petitions it receives for nonregulated status. The Agency can choose to approve a petition in whole or in part, or it can deny the petition. The decision is based on a plant pest risk assessment for the GE plants that are the subject of the petition. Plant pest risks are those risks caused by plant pests that can cause injury, damage, or disease to plants or plant products.
Weeds do not typically cause these types of harm, but rather compete with other plants.
GMO crops that encouraged excessive use of an herbicide that harmed the environment or human health, led to more resistant weeds, or harmed populations of desired organisms, like monarch butterflies, are excluded by USDA from the definition of a plant pest.
Because of the regulatory limits of NEPA, the earlier decision by USDA that the 2,4-D resistant crops are not plant pests was the action that really opened the door for the approval of these crops.
USDA’s inadequate regulation of GMOs is self-imposed
To listen to USDA’s explanation, one might think that the agency’s hands had been tied by Congress or an act of God. But in reality, the agency itself is to blame.
From USDA’s description of the PPA, one could assume that there are no other options than evaluation of GMOs as potential plant pests. But that’s not so. The PPA also contains a broadly worded noxious weed provision that would give USDA the ability to evaluate and regulate GMOs based on a wide range of direct and indirect harms.
Quite simply, USDA is using the wrong standard to evaluate the environmental impact of GMOs.
But despite being passed 14 years ago, USDA still has not developed regulations to implement the PPA. So the noxious weed provisions of the law are not being used.
The Bush administration, in its final days, proposed regulations under the PPA. But their definition of noxious weeds would have set the bar so high that even GMOs that cause a large amount of harm could evade regulation. For example, USDA listed some of the very most invasive weeds and their properties to define the standard for GMOs, such as those that “completely overrun the environment,” or cause damage to farm machinery. Lesser, but still very substantial harm, could escape regulation.
Fortunately, the Obama administration has not finalized those regulations. They would have been worse than nothing. But that leaves the agency in its current state of inappropriate and inadequate regulations.
Does USDA really want adequate regulation for GMOs?
Major regulations take a lot of work and time to complete, but 14 years is more than enough. This leads me to wonder how serious USDA really is about getting out from under its inappropriate plant pest standard. The federal government, and the executive branch in particular, has been a supporter of GMOs domestically and internationally. USAID has been a vocal proponent of GMOs. As but one example, the agency’s web site promotes Bt eggplant in India, despite strong opposition within that country.
This raises the question of whether USDA’s regulatory body for GMOs, the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), is avoiding finalizing reasonable PPA regulations for noxious weeds because it really does not want that authority. Does it prefer to retain weak regulations for the very reason that it gives it a legal excuse to avoid hard decisions that the industry would not like?
Unfortunately, the lack of regulations that could address potential risks from GMOs leaves farmers and the public without sufficient regulatory protection. As things stand, the USDA can figuratively shrug and say, “Gee, we just don’t have the authority under plant pest standards to consider those risks.” But when we look a little deeper, we see that it is the USDA itself that is responsible for the current state of affairs.
2. Urgent: 2,4-D crops approved in Argentina - Take Action!
Argentina adopts a new soy resistant to 2,4-D and other agrochemicals
9 Jan 2014
(slightly edited by GMWatch for English)
Argentina adopted the GM soy 444Ø6-DAS-6 developed by Dow AgroSciences Argentina SA, conferring tolerance to the herbicide 2,4-D, glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium.
2,4-D is one of the components of Agent Orange, a defoliant used during the American War against Vietnam.
2,4-D is an herbicide more dangerous than glyphosate, so the environmental and health impacts of this new GM crop will be even more devastating, especially if one takes into account that the new GMO will have stacked a combination of herbicide-tolerance traits, in order to cope with the emergence of superweeds in areas where RR crops have been used for many years.
The approval of a new GMO in Argentina under the LMO current regulation, openly disregards environmental public order, does not provide citizen participation. The necessary comprehensive environmental impact of the GMO was not carried out, to which is added the lack of intervention of the Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development (SAyDS).
If you want to help to stop this approval, please send an email to the Argentine Government requesting to refuse the permission for the commercial cultivation of this event, or any other event of GE crops resistant to 2,4-D.
Send email to (copying in the second email address given below):
Dr. Cristina Fernández,
President of Argentina
Dear Ms. President:
I am writing you to express my concern in relation about the liberation of the new GM soy 444Ø6-DAS-6 developed by Dow AgroSciences Argentina SA, conferring tolerance to the herbicide 2,4-D, glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium.
As you may know, 2,4-D is an herbicide more dangerous than glyphosate, so the environmental and health impacts of this new GM crop will be even more devastating, especially if one takes into account that the new GM will have stacked a combination of herbicides, in order to cope with the emergence of superweeds in areas where RR crops have been grown for many years.
This is the first country to approve a crop with resistance to 2,4-D, and it will very difficult to put the grains on the market due to consumers' rejection all over the world to this type of crop.