“Agent Orange corn” and herbicide spark concern

There’s a main ingredient in Agent Orange called 2,4-D, and it’s one of the latest toxic chemicals being pushed as an herbicide by Dow Chemical, CREDO Action reports. As the U.S. Food & Drug Administration decides whether to approve genetically modified corn that will be resistant to the chemical, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering stepping forward to restrict use of 2,4-D.

Agent Orange was used by the U.S. military as a defoliant during the Vietnam War, and was responsible for the deaths or injuries of an estimated 400,000 Vietnamese people during that time. Now one of its major ingredients – 2,4-D – is marketed by Dow Chemical to be used on fields by farmers.

Perhaps just as worrying is Dow’s marketing of special modified “2,4-D-resistant corn.” Nicknamed “Agent Orange corn,” the genetically modified corn was created by Dow AgroScience, a division of Dow Chemical. It is engineered to be impervious to 2,4-D, but environmental activists and critics are not convinced of its safety.

Aside from the concerns many have over GM crops, there is even more outrage over the use of 2,4-D as a weed-killer. It is considered by the International Agency for Research on Cancer to be carcinogenic to humans. 2,4-D has been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, hormone disruption, and Parkinson’s disease. It is banned entirely in parts of Canada and Europe.

This development may prove particularly infuriating for activists, in that it harkens back to a similar move by the Monsanto biotech corporation. Monsanto’s “Roundup” herbicide was so toxic to plants that Monsanto, too, had to produce genetically modified “Roundup Ready” seeds that could withstand the effects of the poison. Now, though, weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup, which in turn requires the use of stronger herbicides like the dangerous 2,4-D.

The use of 2,4-D has been drawing ire on all fronts; not simply from environmentalists: Vietnam Veterans of America recently wrote to President Obama, urging that the U.S. Department of Agriculture perform a thorough investigation of how the herbicide might harm people’s health (the administration has so far failed to conduct any such study).

Many farmers, too, are disgusted with the chemical.

Lowell, Ind., farmer Jody Herr was concerned when he found his tomato fields deformed by the weedkiller, which he believes wafted over to his property from farms almost two miles away.

“The leaves had curled and the plants were kind of twisting, rather than growing straight,” Herr remarked. He expressed displeasure at the idea that “Agent Orange corn” was on the verge of receiving regulatory approval.

Herr and a grassroots group of activists, and vegetable canners Seneca Foods – together called The Save Our Crops Coalition – have filed petitions with the government seeking a delay in the corn’s approval. They noted that, while not opposed to biotechnology altogether, they feared that crops not immune to 2,4-D would be accidentally exposed to the toxin as it drifted and wound up on the property of an unsuspecting farmer, like Herr.

CREDO Action is asking activists to submit public comments expressing their concerns, and to implore the EPA to heavily consider prohibiting the use of the herbicide.

Photo: A sign by Greenpeace urging the end of genetically modified crops like Dow Chemical’s troubling new “Agent Orange corn.” Thierry Charlier/AP



Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a writer and production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the People's World home page. He has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Pennsylvania with his girlfriend and their cats. He enjoys wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he reviews music, creates artwork, and is working on several books and digital comics.