While attending Expo East in September the ominous email flew across my screen: USDA granted final approval of a new form of genetically engineered corn and soy, paving the way for a new technology to do battle in our fields. These patented seeds are part of a new technology named Enlist Duo Weed Control. The corn and soy have been genetically altered to withstand heavy applications of two different toxic chemicals. One is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, and the second, 2,4-D, a compound of Agent Orange. Both compounds have a nefarious history and are quite toxic to human and plant health.
Dow AgroSciences, the patent holder, has worked for five years to get this regulatory approval while consumer and environmental groups have ardently blocked its use. China has repeatedly rejected corn shipments that are included in the Enlist Duo Weed Control cocktail party. Why does the USDA think that we need this new chemical weapon to grow our food?
When the first plantings of “Round-Up Ready” crops were introduced it seemed like a golden era of fighting weeds had been ushered in. By genetically inserting a bacterium into the very DNA of our food, farmers could spray liberally and kill everything green, except the crops. Sort of like last man standing in the battle field―only the corn and soy would grow.
At first the technology worked pretty well and the weeds subsided while crop yields rose. No one bothered to notice it was also destroying the habitat for butterflies and pollinators. Eventually the weeds adapted and those that did survive became resistant to the chemical. Over time, those super weeds became the norm. Super virulent pigweed, ragweed, burdock and horseweed had more than doubled, infesting more than 70 million acres in less than a decade. Conventional farmers had no recourse against these weeds but to spray ever more glyphosate.
The farmers caught in this out of balance paradigm desperately needed a new weapon, a new missile to bomb the super enemy. Dow AgroSciences came to the rescue with a new suite of chemical arsenals.
Now, the average conventional famer is caught in the crosshairs. According to USDA, he is male, 58 years of age, and hard pressed to win this toxic battle against nature. Schooled in the conventional “wisdom” of the chemical industrial agriculture complex, he is given the option of ratcheting up new technologies that are wed to ever more toxic chemical bombardments.
According to USDA, the approval of this new technology will likely lead to a sevenfold increase in the use of 2,4-D by 2020, raising it from 26 million to as much as 176 million pounds per year. The danger of this new munitions system has been well documented. Human health concerns range from reproductive harm, cancers, Parkinson’s disease and hormone disruptions. Children, famers and agricultural workers will be at risk of drift in the nearby air and water.
The waters of our agricultural areas will become ever more contaminated. This all comes on the heels of a recently published U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study showing that pesticide concentrations in a majority of the country’s rivers, streams and watersheds currently exceed aquatic-life benchmarks!
Can we really ignore how nature evolves? In just a few years won’t the super weeds of today adapt and transform into brand new soldiers resistant to the new Enlist Duo Weed Control regime? What new suite of chemicals will they turn to in order to fight that next generation of super weeds? How long does the battle repeat and continue?
I believe the answer is to seek peace in our fields and look to the inherent harmony of nature. Organic agriculture depends on building soil fertility and encouraging microorganisms, bacteria and protozoa to flourish. Healthy topsoil builds organic matter which in turn produces healthy yields that can outgrow weeds. Organic agriculture protects our water and air, sinks carbon and reduces greenhouse gas emissions while protecting us from toxic chemicals. When the natural habitat is restored the bees, butterflies and birds return. The song of the prairies can replace the silence of the chemical battlefield.
While most our agricultural system is dominated by the philosophy of battle and power over nature, I believe there is hope. Organic agriculture has the opportunity to teach the way of working within the balance of the natural order. Organic agriculture can successfully grow food and fiber without harming our environment. Every time you buy or sell an organic product you are taking us one step closer to a more sustainable agricultural system.
There is one more regulatory hurdle that lies with the EPA who still has not approved the use of Enlist Duo Weed Control. In the meantime, several groups such as Pesticide Action Network and The Center for Food Safety are planning lawsuits and legal interventions to block this toxic and unsustainable deregulation. Stay in touch with these organizations to learn more, and always choose organic!