EPA OKs Pesticide; Major Increase in Use Expected Soon
Posted April 11, 2012
This week, the U.S. EPA may have opened the door to a major expansion in the use of a pesticide known as 2,4-D, by denying a 2008 petition from NRDC to ban the dangerous chemical. The EPA sat on the petition for over three years, and finally reached a decision that fails to give adequate weight to dozens of studies linking 2,4-D exposure to cancer and birth defects. And with companies now petitioning the USDA to sell genetically modified crops that would dramatically expand the use of this dangerous pesticide, the EPA’s decision could lead to major problems in the near future.
In the EPA denial, the Agency quotes its 1994 conclusion that ‘‘the data are not sufficient to conclude that there is a cause and effect relationship between exposure to 2,4-D and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.’’ Essentially, the Agency is saying that in the absence of animal studies showing a link to cancer, EPA will continue to ignore the multiple human studies which repeatedly show increased rates of this particular cancer in farmers and agricultural workers exposed to the chemical. Accordingly the EPA stands by its classification of 2,4-D as “unclassifiable as to human carcinogenicity”. This remains unconvincing to many, and it is alarming that a pesticide that has been on the market for more than 60 years is still “unclassifiable”.
By down-playing the scientific evidence linking this pesticide to health concerns, the EPA shifts toward under-protecting human health. And while the current use of 2,4-D is cause for concern, changes on the horizon in U.S. agriculture are cause for greater alarm.
New genetically-modified crops (GMO crops) are in the pipeline that are projected to hugely increase the use of 2,4-D. Dow AgroSciences has asked the USDA for approval to market a variety of corn that can tolerate being sprayed with the toxic pesticide. This is handy for farmers – at least until weeds develop resistance – because they can spray large amounts of the chemical on their crops without worrying about damaging the corn.
Unfortunately, there are several problems with this picture. The first and most obvious is that it will lead to huge increases in 2,4-D use on corn, which is the number one crop grown in the U.S. The 2,4-D will leach into water supplies, and drift downwind into communities, resulting in much greater exposure to humans. Worse still, the 2,4-D ‘tolerant’ corn is only the first step – GMO versions of soybeans and cotton are in the works, engineered to allow direct applications of 2,4-D.
This likely increase in use of 2,4-D isn’t just a concern to health advocates. A coalition of farmers, calling themselves the Save our Crops Coalition, have formed to oppose these GMO crops; they know from experience how damaging 2,4-D is to most crops, and they foresee that their vegetable crops will be damaged or killed due to drift of 2,4-D from cornfields and other areas that will be sprayed. 2,4-D is already the number one cause of “off-target” crop damage, and this will only get worse. Unfortunately, regardless of all these problems, the USDA is likely to approve the GMO corn, since that Agency generally doesn’t see health hazards and ecological damage as within their purview.
We were counting on the EPA to help farmers, consumers, Midwesterners who live near cornfields, and people who are concerned about their health. EPA’s response this week doesn’t bode well. The Agency needs to wake up to the new reality and reevaluate 2,4-D in light of the new expansion in use.
Read more about 2,4-D here.
My prior blog contains some advice for consumers about how to avoid 2,4-D.
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