You've probably heard about Roundup Ready crops, the Monsanto-created seeds that are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. But did you know that "Agent Orange Ready" corn and soybeans may be on their way to a supermarket near you?
Thanks to the utter failure of Roundup Ready products to live up to their environmentally-friendly and productive promises, Monsanto competitor Dow Chemical is developing crop seeds that can tolerate the damaging defoliant used in the Vietnam War.
For those unaware of the history behind this impending disaster, here's a quick Roundup of the "magical snake oil solution of genetically-modified crops" peddled by Big Ag:
The favorite argument for modified seeds comes from the stresses felt by third world farmers: Rising oil prices make fertilizer and other inputs more expensive. Global warming forces traditional crops to deal with increased drought, storms and salination. Monsanto and others say they have the solution for these problems.
But their criss-crossed plants that are supposed to be more nutritious may contain deadly toxins and allergens, often undiscovered until it is too late. Sometimes the supposedly more nutritious food has significantly less beneficial compounds than traditional foods.
Their herbicide- and pesticide-resistant crops enable farmers to dump as much poison as they want on their fields, which they often do in order to combat the "super" pests and weeds which have evolved to compete with chemicals. Further, such harmful inputs damage beneficial pests and soil compounds.
In addition to dumping more chemicals on their fields, farmers are having to use several different kinds of herbicides at once. Hence, the commercial re-emergence of Agent Orange. The New York Times nonchalantly explains the necessity in today's edition (emphasis mine):
Monsanto and other agricultural biotech companies are also developing genetically engineered crops resistant to other herbicides.
Bayer is already selling cotton and soybeans resistant to glufosinate, another weedkiller. Monsanto's newest corn is tolerant of both glyphosate and glufosinate, and the company is developing crops resistant to dicamba, an older pesticide.Syngentais developing soybeans tolerant of its Callisto product. AndDow Chemicalis developing corn and soybeans resistant to 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange, the defoliant used in the Vietnam War.
The Veterans Affairs Department recognizes a whole range of diseases caused by Agent Orange exposure, including skin aberrations, several different kinds of cancer, neurological damage, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's, and a specific type of heart disease. The Obama Administration recently added more diseases to the list, expanding the number of vets eligible for benefits under Agent Orange exposure.
Though Dow says it's using only a component of Agent Orange, clearly this is not the type of chemical we should be introducing into the food system, nor should the lives of farmers be considered so expendable as to risk them on a chemical that has been proven deadly for decades. The notion that Dow would consider such a dangerous and politically polarizing chemical in food production is remarkable.
Considering the shoes it is trying to fill, however, the idea to use Agent Orange is less shocking. After all, the dangers of Roundup are not merely in the imaginations of organic food purveyors. Scientists in Argentina have recently found that the herbicide causes fetal defects in much smaller concentrations than were previously assumed. And while conventional wisdom maintains that glyphosate is a safer alternative to other herbicides because it does not persist in the environment as long, the veracity of such information has become increasingly suspect. As I noted last year:
The dangers of glyphosate are hotly debated. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does regulate the allowable amount in drinking water, but the data it has on the dangers of the chemical are all nearly two decades old, and many studies were sponsored by Monsanto. But rural agricultural workers across South America have been protesting the spraying for well over a decade, pointing to increases in local cancer rates and birth defects as proof.
The Transnational Institute (TNI), a nonpartisan international group of scholars, has drawn attention to the inconsistencies and basic errors in studies refuting the dangers of glyphosate. This should come as no surprise, since Monsanto has been involved in several known cases of scientific fraud regarding the same chemical, wherein the EPA found multiple instances in which labs were paid to falsify preferred results for the company. Monsanto has also been charged in multiple jurisdictions fordisseminating misleading informationabout its Roundup products.
These chemical agriculture companies sell their seeds and poisons based on the false premise that farmers will use fewer chemicals -- and less of them -- if they only use these chemicals alongside the seeds that are modified to be able to handle the chemical in question. These companies also promise farmers will have to do less tilling, lowering both workloads and land erosion rates. But just last month a study by the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council found that farmers are overusing the technology to the point that the supposed benefits will soon be outweighed by drawbacks.
Today's New York Times piece once again underscores the falsehoods behind Big Ag's promises. The superweeds created by Big Ag are like something out of a horror movie, growing three inches a day and sometimes being hardy enough to actually do significant damage industrial farm equipment. The article (and to some degree, the study) blames farmers for "planting too many so-called Roundup Ready crops."