By M.L. Johnson, AP
January 5, 2014, 12:02 am TWN
MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin–The U.S. government on Friday proposed eliminating restrictions on the use of corn and soybean seeds that are genetically engineered to resist a common weed killer, a move welcomed by many farmers but feared by scientists and environmentalists who worry it could invite growers to use more chemicals.
The herbicide known as 2,4-D has had limited use in corn and soybean farming because it becomes toxic to the plants early in their growth. The new seeds would allow farmers to use the weed killer throughout the plants’ lives.
Among its critics, 2,4-D is best known as a component of the Vietnam War-era herbicide Agent Orange, which has not been produced since the 1970s.
Agent Orange has been tied to health problems in Vietnam veterans, but scientists do not believe 2,4-D was the culprit. Instead, their research focused on dioxin, a cancer-causing substance found in another ingredient known as 2,4,5-T, which was banned by the EPA in 1985.
Farmers have been eager for a new generation of herbicide-resistant seeds because of the prevalence of weeds that have become immune to Monsanto’s Roundup. But skeptics are concerned that use of the new seeds and 2,4-D will only lead to similar problems as weeds acquire resistance to that chemical too.
“It’s just so clear. You can see that you have this pesticide treadmill effect,” said Bill Freese, a chemist with the Washington, D.C.-based Center For Food Safety, which promotes organic agriculture.
Most corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are already genetically engineered. Before Roundup was introduced in 1976, most farmers tilled their fields prior to planting, flipping the soil over and burying the weeds to kill them. The technique also exposed tilled earth to the air, creating problems with erosion and runoff.
Herbicide-resistant seeds permitted most farmers to stop tilling because they could spray fields after their plants emerged, killing the weeds but leaving crops unharmed.
The new generation of plants “allowed us to do a better job of controlling the weeds, and therefore, we’ve been able to do a better job of preserving the soil, which is our primary natural resource,” said Ron Moore, who grows 809 hectares of corn and soybeans with his brother in western Illinois.