Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chemical Use and Abuse in Agriculture: What's the Problem?

Peter Lehner's recent blog post on ACOEL was inspiring, but also puzzling, because he mentions three problems with agriculture, but only 2 are real problems.

While I agree with the need for a renewed emphasis on environmental contaminants in farming, the issue of 2,4-D seems out of place in his discussion.  Certainly the role of unregulated chemicals in our food supply needs to be brought up to international standards (*cough* Europe).  And certainly the disastrous role of factory farming in harming the environment and, through the over use of antibiotics, breeding new antibiotic-resistant diseases urgently needs to be addressed.

But 2,4-D and glyphosphate are some of the least toxic herbicides available, having been subjected to more scrutiny than any other compound in agriculture. They have been used for decades in both agricultural and turf and domestic garden applications, and the licensing of genetically engineered (GE) crops resistant to these herbicides really doesn't change anything.  2,4-D is already used as a pre-emergence and post-harvest weed control, and the new GE crop gives farmers the option of using it once or twice during the growing season.

These common weedkillers have been used, are currently being used, and will be used, whether or not our country goes down the GE crop road.  What's more, EPA has used the licensing of Dow's Enlist Duo GE soybeans to significantly increase regulation of herbicide use, with the option to review in 6 years.  It should be pointed out that the outcome of GE crops resistant to 2,4-D will likely be the same as it as for glyphosphate: industry will shoot itself in the foot by overusing single-chemical herbicides to the point that weeds evolve resistance.

While other areas of environmental regulation are woefully lacking (antibiotic overuse and GRAS chemicals), the use of herbicides is well-regulated and not a major risk to human or environmental health. NRDC would be well to focus on the important agricultural issues and let settled issues alone.

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