Welcome login | signup
Language en es fr

Forum Post: USDA Moves to Approve "Agent Orange" GMO Seeds

Posted 4 years ago on Jan. 8, 2014, 3:26 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

USDA Moves to Approve "Agent Orange" GMO Seeds

Wednesday, 08 January 2014 09:09 By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | News


The US Department of Agriculture is leaning toward approving varieties of corn and soybean seeds that are genetically engineered to be resistant to several herbicides, including the controversial chemical known as 2,4-D.

Dow Chemical developed the genetically engineered seeds with the brand name Enlist to address the growing problem of "superweeds" that have become resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Roundup is widely used on genetically engineered crops, which are also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Dow claims that Enlist seeds will give farmers an important tool to fight weeds, but pesticide critics and independent researchers say that 2,4-D is linked to health problems. Fighting resistant weeds with tougher chemicals, critics say, is not a sustainable solution to the challenges of modern agriculture.

Just before the start of the weekend January 3, 2014, the USDA released a draft environmental impact statement on the genetically engineered corn and soy seeds, which have been under a strict review since 2011 because of pressure from organic farmers and activists who are concerned about widespread use of 2,4-D. The USDA found that the GMO seeds do not pose a "plant pest risk," and the agency is expected to approve the seeds for general use.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates pesticides, is also reviewing the proposal to inject crops resistant to 2,4-D into the agricultural system. GMO crops such as the Enlist seeds are genetically engineered to resist pesticides marketed by the companies that develop them, allowing farmers to spay entire fields with patented herbicides that kill only weeds and non-GMO plants. In the coming months, the EPA will announce its decision in coordination the USDA.

Food safety activists and environmental activists call the GMO seeds "Agent Orange crops" because 2,4-D was a component of the notorious herbicide used by American forces during the Vietnam War that caused serious illnesses among veterans and the Vietnamese population. Industry proponents point out that Agent Orange's other ingredient, a chemical known as 2,4,5-T, was contaminated with dioxin and made the herbicide dangerous to human health. Meanwhile, 2,4-D has continued to be used in the United States and across the world.

Pesticide critics, however, point to studies that have linked 2,4-D to health problems such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer.

“Any increase in the use of 2,4-D with Enlist corn and soybeans will hit rural communities especially hard, as numerous medical studies have linked 2,4-D and related herbicides to increased rates of cancer and Parkinson’s disease as well as low sperm counts in farmers and to birth anomalies in their children,” said Andrew Kimbrell, director of the Center for Food Safety.

Denmark, Sweden, Norway and parts of Canada have banned 2,4-D in light of such research, but the EPA considers the chemical to be relatively safe. In 2012, the EPA denied a petition from environmental groups to cancel the chemical's legal registration.

2,4-D is the third-most-popular herbicide in the United States, and farmers already are using it to fight Roundup-resistant weeds. The USDA estimates that use of 2,4-D will increase by 75 percent in the next six years if the Enlist crops are not approved. If the Enlist corn and soy are approved, the USDA estimates that the amount of 2,4-D used by farmers will increase further by two to six times.

Researchers at Penn State estimate that the widespread planting of soybeans resistant to 2,4-D would increase the amount of 2,4-D sprayed on American fields to 100 million pounds per year, about four times the current level. The researchers criticized the plan to address resistant weeds with heavy 2,4-D applications as a "quick fix" that would have negative environmental impacts and, over time, increase the superweed epidemic by encouraging weeds to be resistant to multiple herbicides.

A coalition of 144 farming, fishery, environmental and public health groups have asked the USDA not to approve the Enlist seeds, citing health studies and concerns among farmers that 2,4-D would drift onto their property and kill conventional or organic crops, causing serious economic damage in rural communities.

Dow, however, claims to have developed a 2,4-D formulation that is less prone to drift. In its environmental review, the USDA said that a "stewardship agreement" requiring the use of the new formulation has put some farmers' fears to rest. The USDA also claims that, if the Enlist technology is not made available to fight herbicide-resistant weeds, farmers may return to more aggressive tillage practices that can cause soil erosion and other forms of environmental damage.

The USDA has proposed several alternatives to approving the 2,4-D-resistant soy and corn, but approving all the seed varieties is currently the agency's "preferred" option. The public has six weeks to comment on the proposal.

Copyright, Truthout.

Fakethrough! GMOs and the Capitulation of Science Journalism

Wednesday, 08 January 2014 12:21 By Jonathan Latham, Independent Science News | News Analysis




Read the Rules
[-] 3 points by NVPHIL (664) 4 years ago

This pisses me off. I am a huge supporter of genetic modification but the unsafe way these companies are using the science will do more damage to the field then anyone else.

[-] 2 points by LeoYoh (115) 4 years ago

Hawaii's GMO War Headed to Honolulu and Federal Court

Tuesday, 28 January 2014 14:24 By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | News Analysis


The question facing Hawaiians in their grassroots opposition to GMO development: Do county governments - and the local communities they represent - have the power to regulate global chemical companies and the pesticide-laden process of developing genetically engineered seeds?

The debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Hawaii is reaching a fever pitch. The battleground has shifted from packed local meetings to a federal court and the Legislature as powerful agrichemical interests push back against a grassroots movement that has succeeded in passing laws through two county councils. The question facing the island state that has become a cradle of GMO development: Do county governments - and the local communities they represent - have the power to regulate global chemical companies and the pesticide-laden process of developing genetically engineered seeds?

After months of massive marches and packed local meetings, two county governments in Hawaii took on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and the other agrichemical firms that take advantage of Hawaii's three growing seasons to develop GMO seed varieties sold across the world. In November, the county of Kauai passed a law regulating pesticide use at GMO test plots near residential communities. In December, the island of Hawaii banned biotech companies from operating on the island and asked farmers not to plant any newly developed GMO seeds besides papaya.

On January 23, state lawmakers introduced legislation that would block county governments from restricting legal agricultural practices, a move that critics say is a clear effort to pre-empt the counties of Hawaii and Kauai and render their new GMO rules null and void. Anti-GMO activists have dubbed the bill the "Hawaii Monsanto Protection Act."

During the 2012 election cycle, Monsanto and two lobbyists that represent the company were among the top 15 donors to Sen. Clarence Nishihara, the bill's main sponsor in the state Senate, according to state records. During the same election year, Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, another sponsor in the Senate, received a combined $3,650 of donations from Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Dow Chemical and an additional $5,450 from Monsanto lobbyists and industry representatives.

In January 2014, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta and a subsidiary of Dow Chemical filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Kauai's new law, originally called Bill 2491 and now known as Ordinance 960. The law aims at protecting environmental and public health by requiring the three companies, along with the biotech firm BASF, to publically disclose information about pesticide sprays and establishing buffer zones near schools and hospitals.

Corporate Bullying

The lawsuit comes as no surprise. The three companies, which lease more than 11,000 acres on Kauai, had threatened to take legal action during the fiery public debate over Bill 2491 last year. The firms argue that they have been unfairly singled out and are sufficiently regulated by state and federal laws. Kauai County, they told the court, has overstepped its jurisdiction in attempting to infringe on their business.

"For three of the largest of the agrichemical companies in the world to sue a place like Kauai County, a small community, for the right to spray poisons next to schools is indicative of the corporate mindset that we're dealing with," said Gary Hooser, a member of the Kauai County Council and the main architect of Bill 2491.

Hooser said his community is "firm in its resolve." Attorneys with environmental and food safety groups have vowed to defend the Kauai law pro-bono.

The GMO laws passed on Hawaii and Kauai are the results of a grassroots push on county governments to limit biotech operations. Some supporters of the laws are hardcore anti-GMO activists who surely would kick Monsanto and friends out of the state if given the chance, but others, like those living in the shadow of GMO test plots on Kauai's west side, where thousands of pounds of restricted-use pesticides are sprayed each year, say they simply want to protect public health.

“As a west-side resident who is surrounded by the test fields of these companies, it is my basic human right to know what they are exposing me and my family to on a regular basis," said local activist Malia Chun after the companies filed suit against Kauai County. "Their actions prove that they do not value the health and well-being of our community and are only interested in their corporate profit.”

In their complaint against Kauai County, the agrichemical companies argue that disclosing their pesticide regimens would force them to reveal "trade secrets" and put them at risk of "commercial espionage." Chun and other residents, however, want to know if the chemicals are harming the environment and contributing to an uptick in birth defects in an area where dust from the GMO fields regularly falls on neighborhoods and irrigation ditches run directly into a local river and the ocean.

Some of the restricted-use pesticides, such as atrazine, sprayed near Chun's neighborhood of mostly native Hawaiians, have been linked to health problems and are banned in European countries. Federal law in the United States simply requires them to be applied by licensed professionals. In the past, local schoolteachers said that overspraying by Syngenta caused a general panic at an elementary school and made several children sick. The company has denied any wrongdoing.

[-] 3 points by LeoYoh (115) 4 years ago

Hawaii's Monsanto Protection Act

A bill introduced in both chambers of the Legislature in late January 2014 signaled that Honolulu is now the epicenter of the state's GMO debate. The bill amends the Hawaii Right to Farm act to prevent county governments from enacting laws and ordinances that prevent farmers and ranchers from employing "agricultural technology" and farming practices that are allowed under state or federal law.

Democratic Rep. Richard Onishi, vice chairman of the Hawaii House Committee on Agriculture, said in a statement that the bill seeks to strike a balance between "rural and urban needs" and prevent nuisance lawsuits against law-abiding farmers. When asked by a local reporter if the bill is an attempt to pre-empt the GMO measures passed on Hawaii and Kauai, Onishi said, "It's not about preempting the counties. It's not about GMOs. It’s about supporting farmers."

Hooser, a former state lawmaker, is unconvinced. He sponsored the Kauai pesticide law and defended it for months against an aggressive campaign waged by the agrichemical companies.

"Clearly the intent of these bills is to take away the counties' authority in support of the agrochemical companies agenda of minimizing regulation of their industry," Hooser told Truthout. "To say otherwise is disingenuous."

Hawaii state Sen. Russell Ruderman, a Democrat, called the bill a "cynical attempt" to undo the counties' new GMO laws. He said legislation had to be passed at the county level because the powerful agrichemical companies already have bought out state and federal lawmakers.

"The state Legislature has consistently blocked any effort to regulate pesticides and GMOs," Ruderman told Truthout.

Nishihara, a Democrat and chairman of the senate's agricultural committee, introduced the Right to Farm bill in his chamber. Nishihara did not respond to a Truthout request to comment on the bill, but a review of Nishihara's campaign finance records show that Monsanto was one of the top 15 donors to the senator's 2012 election campaign, with $1,000 of donations. George Morris and John Radcliffe, who lobby for Monsanto and other corporations, gave Nishihara $1,000 and $1,500, respectively. Alicia Maluafiti, director of the pro-industry Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, donated $1,000 during the 2012 election cycle. Syngenta gave Nishihara $500 that year.

In 2008, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which has spent big opposing state GMO labeling initiatives, gave Nishihara $4,000. Monsanto donated $750 to the senator's war chest that year, and Morris and Radcliffe have made donations in the past.

Dela Cruz received $1,500 from Monsanto during the 2012 cycle and an additional $5,000 from Monsanto lobbyists, according to state records. Dow, Dupont and Syngenta also gave donations ranging from $500 to $1,000.

Last year, Dela Cruz introduced legislation that Hooser routinely has touted as evidence that the biotech industry already was lobbying state lawmakers to block counties from regulating the agrichemical industry. Hawaii law states that county governments have the power to enact laws "deemed necessary to protect health, life, and property," but Dela Cruz's bill, which was meant to clear up conflicts between federal, state and local regulations, would have struck the words health and life from that language.

"To take away the right of the county to protect health and life really shows what they are willing to do to protect their interests," Hooser said about Dela Cruz's legislation, which he sees as a precursor to the Right to Farm bill.

Cruz's "health and life" bill did enjoy some supporting testimony from a Monsanto community outreach manager but was deferred to committee after many others testified against it. Dela Cruz did not respond to a request for comment from Truthout.

While the "Hawaii Monsanto Protection Act" is making headlines, it's clear that some Hawaii lawmakers are paying attention to the groundswell of anti-GMO activism in their state. Several bills to require the labeling of groceries containing GMO ingredients are on the docket, including one that would amend the state constitution to do so. Other bills call on the state agriculture department to study the impacts of GMO agriculture and issue harsher penalties for pesticide violations.

One proposal would ban open-air testing of GMO seeds and plants unless the agrichemical companies are granted an exception by proving that their experiments are done in controlled environments. Another bill would place a five-year moratorium on the use of Roundup, the popular herbicide originally patented by Monsanto that many GMO crops are engineered to tolerate. It’s unlikely these bills will make it out of committee. But if they are successful, they could force the agrichemical companies to leave Hawaii. For now, their presence will continue to be a statewide controversy and a flashpoint in the global debate over the future of food.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 0 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 4 years ago

HAWAII is not at war

[-] 2 points by LeoYoh (115) 4 years ago

Legal Experts Reject Food Industry Claims That GMO Labeling Laws Are Unconstitutional

Tuesday, 28 January 2014 09:19 By Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association | Report


The food industry is playing every conceivable angle in its quest to keep labels off foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—including, according to a leaked document, threatening to sue the first state that passes a GMO labeling law. (Maine and Connecticut passed GMO labeling laws in 2013. But both have “trigger” clauses that prevent the laws from taking effect until at least four neighboring states, with a combined population of 20 million inhabitants, pass similar labeling bills).

The Organic Consumers Association has obtained the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s (GMA) “One-Pager” of talking points about GMOs and labeling laws. The document is intended for use by food industry lobbyists whose job it is to convince state lawmakers to reject GMO labeling bills in their states.

The talking points include the usual misinformation about GMO safety testing and the so-called benefits of GMOs. But they also include claims that GMO labeling laws are unconstitutional—claims that legal experts say are baseless.

The GMA may not have a legal leg to stand on. Still, the threats to sue states are clearly intended to strike fear in the hearts of those lawmakers genuinely concerned about spending tax dollars on costly court battles.

But GMO labeling activists are also concerned that some lawmakers will use the GMA’s threats as a convenient excuse to reject the majority opinion of their voters, in favor of siding with industry instead. Or as a means to convince their colleagues to add trigger clauses, similar to those in the Maine and Connecticut bills, in an attempt to stall or permanently sabotage GMO laws.

Food manufacturers insist that GMO ingredients are perfectly safe. Still, they’ve spent more than $70 million--some of it illegally laundered—to defeat GMO labeling initiatives in California and Washington State. And the GMA, representing more than 300 food makers and trade associations, has drafted a bill (which so far has no sponsors) that would preempt state mandatory GMO labeling laws and allow the use of the word “natural” on GMO-contaminated products.

But now it appears the GMA, a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has added another arrow to its quiver—intimidating lawmakers into submission by promising to entangle states in long, costly court battles.

Will Vermont Lawmakers Stand Up to Industry?

The GMA’s talking points are intended for use in any state weighing GMO labeling laws. But right now, it’s Vermont that’s once again in the spotlight. And Vermont lawmakers who are in the hot seat.

According to GMA propaganda, state GMO labeling laws violate the First Amendment, which protects commercial speech by prohibiting the government from compelling “certain statements.”

It’s not the first time Vermont lawmakers have had to deal with threats of lawsuits. In 2012, Monsanto lobbyists threatened to sue the state of Vermont if lawmakers there passed a GMO labeling bill. Vermont officials, including the governor, took the threat seriously. But activists responded by enlisting the help of legal experts to determine the bill’s constitutionality. After extensive research and analysis, both a Washington D.C.-based law firm, Emord & Associates, and the Vermont Law School independently concluded that Vermont’s GMO labeling bill would withstand a legal challenge from industry.

According to the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, “We have researched and analyzed challenges that may be made in opposition to such legislation and have concluded that Vermont can pass GE labeling legislation that will meet all constitutional requirements.”

Attorneys at Emord & Associates drew the same conclusion:

"Because the Second Circuit applies the Zauderer exemption for compelled speech broadly, and the Bill protects consumer health and safety, the law is likely constitutional under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Furthermore, H.112 does not impede or conflict with the federal Food and Drug Administration's labeling regime for foods and dietary supplements. The federal system does not preempt H.112, which was enacted constitutionally under the State's general powers. Finally, H.112 does not discriminate against interstate commerce, or impose a burden that outweighs Vermont's legitimate interest in protecting the consuming public. Thus, H.112 does not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause."

Vermont’s GMO labeling law stalled in 2012, in the face of Monsanto’s threats. Then in 2013, the Vermont House of Representatives passed H.112. The legislative session ended before the bill could move to the Senate. But now that the state legislature has reconvened, the bill has been taken up again by the Senate’s Agriculture Committee.

What’s next? Vermont lawmakers could pass a clean bill. Or, they could pass a meaningless bill with a trigger clause. Or, they could cave into industry’s threats entirely, and vote against the 90 percent of Vermonters who support H.112—knowing that the bill is bullet-proof, and their failure to pass it a failure of courage.

GMA Talking Points Are Full of Holes

Aside from being wrong on the constitutionality issue, the GMA talking points spin the usual industry lies about the health, safety and testing of GMOs.

To persuade state lawmakers that we don’t need GMO labeling laws, the GMA trots out the American Medical Association’s (AMA) claim that eating GMOs is no riskier than eating crops grown using conventional methods. But it doesn’t mention that the AMA has called for pre-market safety testing of GMO crops—a position that arguably calls into question the AMA’s position that GMO crops aren’t risky. Nor does the GMA mention the many organizations that do advocate for GMO labels, including the American Public Health Association and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The GMA talking points also claim that genetic engineering improves crop yields by increasing resistance to plant diseases and pests. And that GMO crops use less water.

But scientists have poked holes in all of those claims. In fact, the proliferation of GMO crops has led to increased use of pesticides and whole new classes of “superweeds” and “superbugs.”

In addition to Vermont, Rhode Island and Florida have introduced GMO labeling laws so far this year. And other states, including Massachusetts and New York, are expected to follow. Wherever laws are introduced, GMA lobbyists will be out in force, talking points in hand. Please tell lawmakers in your state to ignore the food industry’s threats, and stand up for consumers.

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Millions Against Monsanto page and our Genetic Engineering page.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.