Farming News - Controversy over ‘Agent Orange’ Corn reaches fever pitch in United States

Controversy over ‘Agent Orange’ Corn reaches fever pitch in United States

30 Apr 2012

News that a licensing application for genetically modified maize, engineered to be resistant to herbicide 2,4-D, may be passed in the United States has been met with vocal opposition from farming groups and conservationist organisations.


The US Agriculture Department application process for agchem giant DOW Chemical’s new GM maize is nearing its end and the department is expected to grant its approval. However, the news has stirred up controversy. Although 2,4-D is a widely used herbicide, its infamy as a principal ingredient of the devastating chemical weapon Agent Orange has led to widespread calls to reject DOW’s application.


Many scientists have stated that another chemical agent, 2,4,5-T, long since banned, caused the most harmful effects of agent orange, but opponents have said the creation of 2,4-D resistant crops is distasteful nonetheless. The new GM maize follows development of 2,4-D resistant soybeans; the new crops are being created in response to the increasing prevalence of glyphosate resistant weeds in the United States.


Conservationists have suggested licensing the plant would drive agriculture in an unsustainable direction, increasing the amount of damaging chemicals used in agriculture. Groups opposing the application have suggested the growing problem of glyphosate resistant weeds, now affecting a number of US states, demonstrates the technology has failed, and that rather than licensing another chemical resistant plant following the failure of Roundup Ready crops, the USDA should offer support to more resilient agroecological farming systems.


Farmers and Consumer groups in the United States have formed the Save Our Crops Coalition in response to the application. The organisation maintains that, although it does not oppose genetic modification, it is concerned that fruit and vegetable growers will suffer reduced yields as a result of drift, to which 2,4-D is prone, as its use will increase dramatically.


The growers’ coalition has suggested that licensing the controversial maize would lead to a thousand fold increase in use of 2,4-D. They fear this increase in use could affect growers of tomatoes, green beans, peas, squash, pumpkins, melons, grapes and other soft fruits.


The public consultation on the 2,4-D resistant maize ended on Friday. The US Department of Agriculture received over 5,000 comments, including a petition signed by 267,500 people calling on the department to reject the application.  


Supporters of the new crop are claiming it will allow the United States to remain competitive internationally and enable the country to achieve food security in the face of a rising population. However, food policy experts have warned against viewing competitivity as the end goal of food production and suggested that poverty and inequality, not lack of food, of which there is enough produced already to end hunger, are responsible for food insecurity.