GMO reliance on toxic chemicals spawned a profusion of Super Weeds

How much herbicide is safe for human consumption? How much is safe for young children?
How much will Americans wind up consuming? Since the 1990s, when a National Research Council (NRC) panel warned lawmakers that exposing fetuses and young kids to these compounds can cause lifelong damage at doses that wouldn’t hurt their parent, federal law has required the EPA to protect children from pesticides — chemicals that kill weeds, insects or other harmful organisms.

EPA spiked the amount of 2,4-D deemed it “safe” for children by an increase of 41 times
Under the Obama administration, the EPA radically lowered its safety standards for pesticide/herbicide exposure. In 2005, under the Bush administration, the EPA set the acceptable “safe” daily intake of 2,4-D at 0.005 mg/kg.  Under EPA’s new safety standards U.S. children ages 1 to 12 could consume 2,4-D (Agent Orange) “safely” at levels 41 times higher.

That amount of 2,4-D is deemed unsafe by the World Health Organization, Russia, Australia, South Korea, Canada, Brazil and China. For decades the EPA had considered that exposure level dangerous. Agent Orange is the defoliant used in Vietnam which has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, hypothyroidism and other health problems.

Over the years, federal and university researchers showed 2,4-D was worrisome on its own. Studies found increased odds of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s disease among people who used the chemical as part of their jobs… the WHO’s cancer research agency ruled that 2,4-D is a possible carcinogen.”

Even some scientists who have spent their professional lives eradicating weeds oppose the new genetically modified crops and the chemical future they foreshadow. “Those herbicide increases are not OK,” said David Mortensen, a professor of weed and applied plant ecology at Pennsylvania State University. “To me, that is unconscionable that we can be OK with that, and I’m not an anti-chemical radical.”

“But the Obama administration’s EPA now says it is safe to allow 41 times more 2,4-D into the American diet than before he took office. To reach that conclusion, the Tribune found, the agency’s scientists changed their analysis of a pivotal rat study by Dow, tossing aside signs of kidney trouble that Dow researchers said were caused by 2,4-D.” (Chicago Tribune)

GE produce depends on high volume use of herbicides
The essential element in the production of genetically engineered crops is poison in the form of pesticides and herbicides. Initially Monsanto promised that GE crops that have been bred to tolerate glyphosate, widely known as Roundup, will reduce the use of herbicides. Glyphosate has served as the linchpin of Monsanto’s GMO business: Roundup is used as a weed killer in 80% of 120 million acres of GMO crops globally. Roundup Ready seeds are infused with glyphosate which is absorbed into the plant’s cellular structure – its DNA – in order to kill weeds and unwanted plants. The chemical cannot be removed from GMO crops and other plants by washing, peeling, baking or brewing grains.

Pigweed, glyphosate-resistant “super weed” a farmer’s nightmare

The weed killer, Roundup has spawned the proliferation of super weeds.
Inasmuch as Mother Nature does not take kindly to efforts aimed at suppressing natural evolution, the intensive use of glyphosate in biotech agriculture has resulted in the proliferation of “super weeds” which are also resistant to Roundup spraying; they grow 8 feet tall with stems as thick as baseball bats. Super Weeds have become farmers’ nightmare as a vicious cycle has taken root in biotech agriculture. Farmers are encouraged to use increased quantities of ever more toxic chemical combinations on food crops.

In the US, where approximately 90 percent or more of all cotton, soy, and corn plantings are of glyphosate-tolerant GMO varieties, the acres of farmland harboring glyphosate-resistant weeds nearly doubled between 2010 and 2012, from 32.6 million acres to 61.2 million acres.” (Modern Farmer, 2016)

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops created an environmental disaster by causing infestation of tens of millions of acres of farmland with herbicide-resistant weeds and spurring an enormous increase in pesticide use.” (Attorney Paul Achifoff, Sustainable Pulse, 2017)

EPA approved increasingly toxic chemical weapons for use in GMO food crops
During Obama’s presidency the EPA approved two especially controversial herbicides are: Monsanto’s XtendMax, a repackaged old chemical, Dicamba; and Enlist Duo, Dow Chemical’s combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D; the primary component of Agent Orange (which also contained the lethal chemical dioxin; and became infamous  during the Vietnam War). In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) an independent panel of the World Health Organization classified each of these poisonous chemicals – glyphosate and 2,4-D –as “probably” and “possibly” carcinogenic in humans. (Read AHRP post: Scientific review of pesticide cancer risk ignites war against scientists)

“The EPA quietly approved Monsanto’s XtendiMax on November 11, 2016, when all news outlets were focused on the presidential election outcome.

One of the major disadvantages of dicamba compared to glyphosate is that it is much more “volatile,” meaning it easily becomes airborne and drifts away from where it is applied. Historically, dicamba has been used in agriculture primarily as a pre-emergent (applied to the soil to kill weed seeds prior to planting a crop), since it could not be applied directly to crop plants.”(Modern Farmer, 2016)

 The volatility of dicamba drifts between farmers’ fields has caused massive damage to crops not targeted by the poison – soybeans, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, peas, peanuts, cotton, alfalfa even peaches. Dicamba drifts have led to shootings that left one farmer dead. (EPA Challenged in Court over Approval of Monsanto’s New Toxic Pesticide, Sustainable Pulse, Jan 23 2017)

Monsanto invested $1 billion in producing its new dicamba formula, and expects 15 million acres to be planted with dicamba-resistant seeds in 2017 and 55 million acres by 2019. Monsanto distributed its dicamba-resistant seeds before it marketed the supposedly “less volatile” spray. The long-term consequences are unclear, though it is more than likely that many weeds will develop resistance to dicamba as it is sprayed on a wider scale. Indeed, a recent University of Arkansas study (2016) found that the dreaded pigweed weed, when sprayed with low doses of dicamba became resistant to the full legal dose after just three generations.

The research [ ] was conducted in the greenhouse [ ] resulted in a dicamba-resistant pigweed [it] illustrates how multiple resistances have developed. One pesticide quits working and so we replace it with another, and so on and so on, until you are left with a weed population or insects for that matter that can tolerant multiple modes of action. This is the inevitable result of using a single effective mode of action to control a given pest…the finding strongly suggests that there will be sizeable evolutionary consequences.” (Arkansas Agriculture study)

Center for Biological Diversity Scientists: Science is Real. Extinction is Forever

“We can’t spray our way out of this problem. We need to get off the pesticide treadmill. Pesticide resistant superweeds are a serious threat to our farmers, and piling on more pesticides will just result in superweeds resistant to more pesticides. We can’t fight evolution—it’s a losing strategy.” Nathan Donley, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity (EcoWatch, Jan 2017)

In Jaunary 2017, Farmers and conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit on Friday challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of Monsanto’s new “XtendiMax” pesticide. They objected to the approval as it ushers a massive increase in use of the toxic pesticide. The suit charges that it will increase risks to farmers, community health, and the environment. Because these same crops are also engineered to withstand applications of Monsanto’s Roundup, the overuse of that glyphosate-based pesticide  will continue at current high levels. (Read: Sustainable Pulse, Jan. 23, 2017)

In 2014 and 2016, EPA approved registration of Dow Chemical’s herbicide Enlist Duo, composed of a combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D (Agent Orange).

an herbicide product containing 2,4-D and glyphosate, was first registered in 2014 for use on genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybean crops in 6 states, and later in an additional 9 states. At this time [2016], EPA is amending the registration to allow use on GE cotton in those 15 states and extend the use of Enlist Duo on GE corn, soybean and cotton to an additional 19 states.” (EPA Registration of Enlist Duo)

So how did the EPA make the determination that it was safe to increase U.S. children’s exposure to 2,4-D at levels 41 times higher than previously considered safe?

Chicago Tribune investigation uncovered evidence documenting EPA scientific misconduct
The investigation by Patricia Callahan uncovered documented evidence of corrupted science by EPA scientists who “paved the way” for the agency to reduce safety standards – in particular standards to protect children from ingesting harmful levels of poison.

Dow’s own scientists’ findings in a 2005 animal feeding study were altered by EPA scientists. Dow’s scientist reported that ingestion of 2,4-D at a high dose showed that rats fed 2,4-D experienced thyroid hormone changes, reproductive effects in male rats, and kidney lesions. The kidney problems occurred even at lower doses. The Tribune reports that in a poster presentation in 2010, Dow scientists acknowledged that “exposure-related kidney lesions occurred at a lower dose in male rat offspring than in their parents.”

EPA scientists who reviewed the data, at first agreed with Dow’s interpretation; but then EPA scientists embraced “an alternative interpretation of the data.” They discarded (“tossed aside”) evidence of adverse biological data documented by Dow scientists. They subsequently described in their report, that the kidney damage was “not treatment related.”  They did so, even though kidney damage at low doses had been confirmed by at least five studies submitted to the EPA in the 1980s.

Furthermore, EPA scientists also violated standard scientific practice by altering the way safe toxicity levels in humans is extrapolated from the animal toxic levels to determine the dose at which “there was no statistically or biologically significant indication of a toxic effect.” It is the most important measure in a pesticide toxicity study, called NOEL (“no observed adverse effect level“)  EPA dropped the mandatory calculation safeguarding children since the 1990s; and chose as their no-adverse-effect level a dose at which rats actually suffered toxic effects. EPA disregarded the toxic effects and determined that the “safe” level for 2,4-D could be spiked from a NOEL dose of 0.005 mg/kg to a dose of 0.007 mg/kg. The actions taken by the EPA researchers were to facilitate EPA approval of Dow Chemical’s herbicide Enlist Duo, a combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D.

Dr. Philip Landrigan, the pediatrician who chaired the NRC panel is so alarmed by the potential increase in children’s exposure to 2,4-D that he is calling for the federal National Toxicology Program to assess the safety of the mix of weedkillers that would be used on new genetically modified crops. His year long entreaties to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to reject the “notoriously toxic herbicide” fell on deaf ears. [Dr. Landrigan’s research showing the damaging effects of lead in children, resulted in its removal from paint and gasoline.]

petition to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was filed by a coalition of environmental protection advocacy groups, including Environmental Working Group and Natural Resources Defense Council (Oct. 2015) In the course of the litigation, a document Dow had submitted to the U.S. Patent Office revealed that

“Dow made contradictory claims to different parts of the U.S. government.” Dow had misinformed the EPA by claiming the combination herbicides in Enlist Duo was no more toxic than each separately. But in its patent application, Dow stated that the mixture of chemicals offers “synergistic herbicidal weed control.” (Busted: National Public Radio, Nov. 2015)

In light of the information subsequently submitted by Dow to the EPA about the synergistic effects, the EPA rescinded its approval of Enlist Duo (Nov 2015) acknowledging that:

“EPA is in receipt of new information regarding potential synergistic effects between the two ingredients on non-target plants, EPA seeks a voluntary remand in order to reconsider the Enlist Duo registration in light of the new information… specifically, Dow did not submit to EPA during the registration process the extensive information relating to potential synergism it cited (in applications) to the Patent Office; EPA only learned of the existence of that information after the registrations were issued and only recently obtained the information. EPA can no longer be confident that Enlist Duo will not cause risks of concern to non-target organisms, including those listed as endangered..” 

When the EPA approved Enlist Duo, officials ignored more than 400,000 comments on the Federal Register against the marketing of Enlist Duo, and ignored the objections by 35 members of Congress:

“We were concerned to learn that, during this process, EPA dismissed a key study linking 2,4-D to kidney abnormalities based on one scientist’s analysis, and in doing so, effectively gave the green light for 41 times more of the chemical to enter the America diet than was previously allowed.

 “Given the widely-known adverse impacts of 2,4-D on human health and the environment, and with little understood about the implications of combining 2,4-D and glyphosate, EPA should use the utmost caution in assessing the safety of Enlist Duo before approving it for continued use…. The public deserves to know how EPA intends to address all of these concerns.” (Chicago TribuneFebruary 2016)

In January 2016, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Dow and rejected EPA’s request to vacate its 2014 approval of Enlist Duo.The three-sentence order did not elaborate on the judges’ reasoning.