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Dow & Monsanto in deadly race on the pesticide treadmill

by: Marcia Ishii-Eiteman

Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 20:13:03 PM PST

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Originally posted on Pesticide Action Network's blog, Groundtruth.

You've all heard the news: farmers across the country are losing their fields to superweeds so formidable and fast-spreading that they break farm machinery and render millions of acres of farmland useless. These superweeds have evolved as a direct consequence of Monsanto's RoundUp Ready pesticide-seed package. Now superbugs are emerging, resistant to Monsanto's transgenic insecticidal crops. Ecologists predicted this ecological disaster 15 years ago.

The big question is, can we possibly learn from this ecological and agronomic disaster? The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Monsanto's rival, Dow Chemical, apparently cannot.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman :: Dow & Monsanto in deadly race on the pesticide treadmill
From bad to worse

Instead of abandoning this losing strategy, Dow is trying to get us running faster on the same old broken pesticide treadmill. Dow and USDA are hoping to quietly approve a new genetically engineered corn seed that basically swaps RoundUp (glyphosate) out and an even worse weedkiller (2,4-D) in. Bad idea.

As with Monsanto's RoundUp Ready lines, the herbicide with which these seeds are engineered to be used (2,4-D) will surge in use. Dow aims to get 2,4-D-resistant corn to market this year, soy next year and cotton in 2015. These three crops dominate U.S. agriculture, blanketing over 100 million acres of mono-cropped countryside and driving the pesticide market. Only this time, the fallout will be even worse. Here's why:

2,4-D is a more toxic herbicide, both to humans and to plants. 2,4-D is a reproductive toxicant (associated with lower sperm counts) and its formulations have been linked to cancer (in particular non-Hodgkins lymphoma), disruption of the immune and endocrine (hormone) systems and birth defects. EPA has also expressed a "concern for developmental neurotoxicity resulting from exposure to 2,4-D."

2,4-D does and will drift off of target crops - both through spray drift and volatilization. The latter enables chemicals to travel with moving air masses for miles. Neither applicator nor innocent bystander can prevent such movement. The spread of 2,4-D across our lands will damage non-target crops and vegetation, devastate adjacent ecosystems and poses a very real threat to rural economies and farmers growing non-2,4-D-resistant crops. Conventional farmers growing their product miles away will suffer severe crop losses, while organic farmers will lose both crops and certification, resulting in business failures, job losses and an economic unraveling of already-stressed rural communities.

2,4-D-resistant "superweeds" will arise and spread just as RoundUp-resistant "superweeds" have taken over farms and countryside in the Midwest and Southeast. Where will this leave struggling farmers? What even more deadly pesticide will the biotech companies resort to next?

➤ Corn is wind-pollinated which means that genetic material from 2,4-D corn will contaminate non-GE corn. You cannot put a GE genie back in the bottle.

What next?

Will Dow provide compensation to farmers, their children and rural communities for the harms likely to occur should the company secure approval of its 2, 4-D resistant corn? I rather doubt it. Dow has still refused to assume responsibility for the deaths and devastation arising from the pesticide explosion in Bhopal, India in 1984, so why would the company show any integrity now?

What about USDA? Can we expect our public agency to carefully scrutinize the likely fallout of approving 2,4-D resistant corn? One problem is that USDA does not really want to know what the public thinks.

One giveaway sign: USDA opened the required public comment period over the holiday break, as the Agency tends to do for controversial decisions they want to bury.

More significantly, they've asked the public to comment only on whether or not the new GE corn poses a "plant pest risk" - not on whether the impacts of this new GE crop are more likely to strengthen farmers' ability to grow healthy food safely or to devastate their health, livelihoods and the environment all in one go.

But Agency reluctance to face facts shouldn't stop us from exercising our rights. We'll have to be loud - really loud - because an active engaged public is what it will take to get our agencies back on track and in the business of serving the public interest, not corporate profits.

Take Action »  Tell USDA we want off the pesticide treadmill! This dangerous and antiquated herbicide shouldn't be on the market, and we certainly should not be giving Dow license to profit from driving up use. Sign our petition to USDA.

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2,4-D (4.00 / 1)
2,4-D is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, and has been for decades. Is there any evidence of the development of weed resistance to 2,4-D?

2,4-D resistance (0.00 / 0)
Yes, unfortunately, we already have weed resistance to 2,4-D. Dave Mortensen of Penn State published an article recently in Bioscience.
It was covered well by Doug Gurian-Sherman of Union of Concerned Scientists:
Here's an excerpt from Mortensen's paper:
If herbicide-resistant-weed problems are addressed only with herbicides, evolution will most likely win Glyphosate-resistant weeds rapidly evolved in response to the intense selection pressure created by the extensive and continuous use of glyphosate in resistant crops. Anticipating the obvious criticism that the new synthetic auxin-resistant cultivars will enable a similar overuse of these herbicides and a new outbreak of resistant weeds, scientists affiliated with Monsanto and Dow have argued that synthetic auxin- resistant weeds will not be a problem because (a) currently very few weed species globally have evolved synthetic auxin resistance, despite decades of use; (b) auxins play complex and essential roles in the regulation of plant development, which suggests that multiple independent mutations would be necessary to confer resistance; and (c) synthetic auxin herbicides will be used in combination or rotation with glyphosate, which will require weeds to evolve multiple resistance traits in order to survive (Behrens MR et al. 2007, Wright et al. 2010). Although these arguments have been repeated in several high-profile journals, the authors of those arguments have conspicuously left out several impor- tant facts about current patterns in the distribution and evolution of herbicide-resistant weeds.

First, similar arguments were made during the release of glyphosate-resistant crops. Various industry and university scientists contended that details of glyphosate's biochemical interactions with the plant enzyme EPSPS (5-enolpyru- vylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase) combined with the apparent lack of resistant weeds after two decades of previ- ous glyphosate use indicated that the evolution of resistant weeds was a negligible possibility (Bradshaw et al. 1997).

Second, it is not the case that "very few" weed species have evolved resistance to the synthetic auxin herbicides. Globally, there are 28 species, with 6 resistant to dicamba specifically, 16 to 2,4-D, and at least 2 resistant to both active ingredients (table 1). And although many of these species are not thought to infest large areas or cause significant economic harm, data on the extent of resistant weeds are compiled through a passive reporting system, in which area estimates are voluntarily supplied by local weed scientists after a resistant-weed problem becomes apparent. Synthetic auxin-resistant weeds may appear unproblematic because these species currently occur in cropping systems in which other herbicide modes of action are used that can effec- tively mask the extent of the resistant genotypes (Walsh et al. 2007). Furthermore, the claim that 2,4-D resistance is unlikely to evolve because of the complex and essential func- tions that auxins play in plants is unsubstantiated. In many cases in which resistance has evolved to synthetic auxins, the biochemical mechanism is unknown. However, in at least two cases, dicamba-resistant Kochia scoparia (Preston et al. 2009) and dicamba-resistant Sinapis arvensis (Zheng and Hall 2001), resistance is conferred by a single dominant allele, indicating that resistance could develop and spread quite rapidly (Jasieniuk and Maxwell 1994).

The final dimension of the industry argument is that by planting cultivars with stacked resistant traits, farmers will be able to easily use two distinct herbicide modes of action and prevent the evolution of weeds simultaneously resistant to both glyphosate and dicamba or 2,4-D. The logic behind this argument is simple. Because the probability of a muta- tion conferring target-site resistance to a single-herbicide mode of action is a very small number (generally estimated as one resistant mutant per 10-5 to 10-10 individuals [Jasie- niuk and Maxwell 1994]), and because distinct mutations are assumed to be independent events, the probability of multiple target-site resistance to two modes of action is the product of two very small numbers (i.e., 10-10 to 10-20). For instance, if the mutation frequency for a glyphosate-resistant allele in a weed population is 10-9, and the frequency for a dicamba mutant is also 10-9, the frequency of individu- als simultaneously carrying both resistant alleles would be 10-18. If the population density of this species is assumed to be around 100 seedlings per square meter (m2) of cropland (106 per ha), it would require 1012 ha of cropland to find just one mutant individual with resistance to both herbicides. For point of reference, there are only about 15 × 108 ha of cropland globally. Therefore, even if the weed species were globally distributed, and all of the world's crop fields were treated with both herbicides, it would appear virtually impossible to select a single weed seedling exhibiting mul- tiple resistance.

[ Parent ]
Bhopal was indeed... (4.00 / 1) of the worst tragedies of human history.  If there was ever any justice in this world, Union Carbide would have received the corporate death penalty 28 years ago.

count's question is a great one, please answer?

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