Time for USDA to Wake up to Weed Resistance and Ban Agent Orange Corn Once and For All
By Genna Reed
Last week, Dow announced that because the USDA has not yet approved its 2,4-D Corn “Enlist” variety yet, it will not be ready for planting until at least 2014. This is great news for all of the groups and individuals who have garnered over 400,000 petition signatures telling the USDA not to approve the toxic corn.
This delay is certainly worth celebrating, but the fight to stop the approval of this corn is not over. Dow has gained approval in Canada and Japan for its Enlist brand and is still ramping up production of its 2,4-D herbicide and 2,4-D-resistant corn seeds with every expectation that it will be approved in the U.S.
Regulators and biotech companies are still fumbling to try to find chemical solutions to America’s weed resistance problem despite the fact that overreliance on weed killers linked to GE crops is making the situation worse. Agricultural biotechnology companies continue to watch their herbicide and seed sales rise, while weeds develop resistance to all types of chemicals thrown at them at an alarming rate.
Palmer Amaranth (also called pigweed), a very aggressive weed that can grow 2 to 3 inches per day and up to 10 feet tall, has crippled some cotton and soybean producers in the South. Now this glyphosate-resistant weed is popping up across the cornbelt in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. This weed outcompetes corn and soybean for sunlight and nutrients and can result in yield losses of up to 91 percent in corn and 79 percent in soybean, which could be devastating for farmers. In 2009, farmers in Georgia were forced to weed half of the state’s 1 million acres of cotton by hand—something not usually done—due to the spread of pigweed, costing a total of $11 million. This weed alone could result in huge losses for corn and soybean growers in the Midwest and the use of an arsenal of toxic herbicides in attempts to control it.
Instead of waiting for the next generation of herbicide-resistant GE crops to plant, USDA should be exploring non-chemical solutions to this weed crisis. Using heavy cover crops and rotating crops from year to year would be a good start. And then of course, they could focus on the real root of the problem: agriculture’s dependence on glyphosate (and soon enough, 2,4-D) to manage weeds; a practice the weeds quickly adapt to resist. If reality doesn’t sink in soon, fields across the country could become further engulfed with super weeds— a risky scenario that the USDA should be working around the clock to avoid.
For more information on the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/factsheet/ge-crops-chemicals-and-the-environment/