There is a new herbicide that is right now making its way through the regulatory processes of the EPA, hoping to be approved for commercial use. It is called Enlist Duo Herbicide. Enlist is a companion to the Enlist soybeans and corn traits that was developed by Dow AgroSciences to provide farmers with another tool for weed control. The traits have already been approved the USDA. The hope is that Enlist will make it through all of the regulatory processes by the 2015 growing season.
Of course, the usual suspects are crying foul. They are attempting to block the EPA’s approval of the Enlist herbicide, which would effectively prevent the new biotech traits from being employed to their full potential. Nine organizations (that are anti-GMO/pro-organic) have filed comments with the EPA asking it to not approve the chemical for wider agricultural use.On today’s episode, Dr. Oz will issue a “challenge” to viewers to contact the EPA and warn them not to give approval to Enlist.
But the opposition’s narrative is missing a few key pieces of the story.
Enlist is a mixture of Round-Up and a chemical 2, 4-D that would be sprayed on GMO crops. In reality, 2, 4-D isn’t nearly as scary as the opposition has made it seem, nor is it new. It has been used as a commercial weed applicator since the 1940’s. In fact, it is the most widely used weed killer in the world. It’s also very effective at controlling weeds. The herbicide actually has nothing to do with GMOs. In fact, my dad routinely used it in the past on soybeans (after planting, but before they come up) and corn (which was less than 6 inches high). Rather, it will be used in combination to Round-Up for weed control to slow weed’s resistance to Round-Up.
Yes, resistance is becoming a problem. But what we need to combat that problem is other means of getting rid of weeds.
Resistance occurs when a plant is sprayed with a chemical, doesn’t die, and passes those genes to the next generation, which will be even more likely to survive application of the chemical. For example, let’s say farmer sprays Weed A with Chemical A and only 80% of the weeds in the field die. The remaining 20% of weeds, which have some marginal type of resistance to Chemical A, will reproduce and pass that resistance on to the next generation of plants. That means the following year, Weed A will be slightly more resistant to Chemical A. This has been happening with weeds that have some natural resistance to Round-Up. It means that the Round-Up is no longer able to kill all of the weeds that it once did.
However, that doesn’t mean the story has to end there. If farmer could go into the field and spray Weed A with Chemical B, the remaining 20% of Weed A would die and be unable to pass its Chemical A resistance to the next generation of weeds. Chemical B has a different mode of action (meaning: it kills the weed differently than Chemical A). By alternating between the Chemical A and Chemical B (and C, D, E….), the weed would not have the ability to pass along resistant trait to its offspring. Therefore, our chemicals would be more effective for longer periods of time.
Obviously, preventing resistance is difficult, but it can be done if farmers are using the correct amount and being careful. We need to kill all the weeds, not allow some to remain in the field. As humans and our crops have evolved over time – even without biotech – so have the weeds. Because weeds can seriously cut down on yields, farmers have always been finding ways to combat them. Having an arsenal full of tools, however, is pretty helpful. It allows us to fight the weeds and prevent resistant strains from developing throughout subsequent generations.
Unfortunately, farmers have not been given all of those tools.
When the EPA approved the use of Round-Up for agriculture, that was the only chemical approved for use on biotech products and it largely remains that way today. Not only has pressure by organic agriculture stymied the pace at which new chemicals were created and tested, it also stood in the way to prohibit the EPA from approving new chemicals. Under the current administration, the EPA has many sympathetic ears.
That’s exactly what is happening to Enlist and 2, 4-D.
Nine environmental interest groups, including the Environmental Working Group, Just Label It, CREDO Action, SumofUs, and the Organic Consumers Association, have all filed petitions with the EPA requesting that 2, 4-D not be approved for wider agricultural use. No doubt all of these organizations used the comment opportunity to put out a bunch of misinformation about the chemical and genetically modified crops to further their own agendas (and most of their comments make little to no sense…).
In reality, these groups are making the problem worse by prohibiting farmers from having a full arsenal of tools that can combat the weeds and slow the rate of resistant strains from developing.
The game these organizations play is, quite frankly, very dangerous. While they certainly benefit financially from attacking conventional agriculture and perpetrating fear among consumers, farmers following their production methods are unable to produce enough food to feed our growing population. Conventional farming techniques, including biotechnology, are going to be crucial if we want to meet the world’s (or country, or state, or county, or city’s) food demands. Taking away agriculture’s tools and promoting these inaccuracies is deceptive and irresponsible.
If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest you check out Dow’s Enlist website.UPDATE: Illinois Farm Girl wrote an excellent piece debunking more of the claims on Dr. Oz’s show. I highly suggest reading it! You can read it here. Also, I wanted to be sure I linked to Steve Savage’s blog about this, which is here. If you remember from my “Potato Girl” story, Steve is a scientist that blogs about these issues over at Applied Mythology.