You might have seen some stories this weekend about how the USDA has approved the use of Agent Orange on crops. Here are just a few tweets:
— Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan) January 4, 2014
— MayEye0818 (@MayEye0818) January 6, 2014
Corn and soybeans doused in weed killer 2,4-D (aka part of Agent Orange) coming to a cereal box near you! http://t.co/VugYzQ5foz
— Zoe Schlanger (@zoeschlanger) January 3, 2014
And of course, a good dose of GMO hysteria isn’t complete without invoking Monsanto.
— Celeste Fassbinder ? (@celesfassbinder) December 31, 2013
Well, at least goth gal Celeste wished us a happy new year. That’s nice. But should you really be nervous? Is the deadly Vietnam era weapon coming to a cereal box near you as Ms. Schlanger so artfully suggests above?
So what's this all about?
Basically, on Friday, the USDA proposed lifting restrictions on certain GM seeds designed to resist an herbacide known as 2,4-D. Jon Entine explains why this has created panic among the anti-GMOers and why many of them are claiming farmers are going to coat their fields in Agent Orange:
What is 2,4-D? According to scientists, it’s an effective herbicide and plant growth regulator widely and safely used for decades in household weed killers, such as Scotts TurfBuilder, and also by farmers. To opponents, it’s “Agent Orange”.
That’s factually untrue. As agricultural scientist Steve Savage has written on the independent website Biofortified, “Agent Orange, a defoliant used in the Vietnam War, was made with two herbicides: 2,4-D (the one that the new corn tolerates), and 2,4,5-T. The 2,4,5-T was unknowingly contaminated with a dioxin, something that was only later recognized as a significant human safety issue. Yes, 2,4-D was part of Agent Orange, but it wasn’t what made Agent Orange a danger back in the 1960s.”
Okay, let’s just take this slowly. Agent Orange isn’t just one chemical. It’s a combination of two herbicides plus (and the plus seems to be very important here) some nasty dioxin. That’s the combination that made the deadly poison Agent Orange. That means, the single herbaside—2,4-D—is not Agent Orange.
Think of it this way: Bleach and vinegar mixed together can produce toxic vapors. But alone, these items won’t kill you—even if you breathe in the fumes while cleaning. Check out this pretty informative Buzzfeed list of 16 common product combinations you should never mix. Similarly, 2,4-D alone is not Agent Orange but is simply one of the ingredients.
Entine goes on to explain the safety record of 2,4-D (might I suggest a name change on this stuff?):
The Environmental Protection Agency has evaluated 2,4-D numerous times under increasingly stringent risk assessment evaluations and consistently found the comparatively mild herbicide safe. The Oregon State University and EPA-backed National Pesticide Information Center thoroughly reviewed the chemical and found it safe in its proposed usages.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) endorsed the safety of the traits years ago after extensive reviews, but the final approval process slowed to a crawl in the face of activist pressures. Citing “public concerns” about the potential increased volume of herbicides and their movement onto non-target crops, APHIS announced in May that it would require a more stringent environmental review of Enlist crops waiting to be approved for the market. That’s now completed. The draft EIS will be published in the Federal Register this week and open for public comment for 45 days.
Read the entire post here.
Andrew Kniss over at Control Freaks has this to say about activists using the Agent Orange line (emphasis mine):
You may have heard of these crops referred to by activists as “agent orange corn.” But I can assure you that when that term is used, the intent is not to inform, but to scare. In the FAQ that accompanied the Draft EIS, USDA-APHIS clarifies this point explicitly:
Q. Is 2,4-D the same thing as “Agent Orange” defoliant?
A. No. “Agent Orange” was a mixture of herbicides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, kerosene and diesel fuel. Agent Orange contained high levels of dioxin, a contaminant found in 2,4,5-T that causes cancer and other health concerns in people. EPA cancelled all use of 2,4,5-T in 1985 because of these risks. By contrast, EPA has approved the use of 2,4-D and considers it safe when used according to the EPA-approved labeling.