Enlist Duo Herbicide (2, 4-D): The Rest of the Story

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.

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15 Responses to "Enlist Duo Herbicide (2, 4-D): The Rest of the Story"

  1. Anonymous

    You seem not to include research from other countries that have studies to back up the dangers of these chemicals already in use. Now we need even more chemicals to kill resistant weeds? Return to cultivating the weeds and quit poisoning the soil and our children.

    • 1. I do include research in all of my posts. In fact, I linked directly to the EPA's website discussing Enlist. I cannot fathom that there is a scientific study out there that they have not reviewed in considering the request to allow for commercial use of Enlist. 2. As I explained, farmers need to have all of the tools available to them. In this case, they can rotate the herbicides being used and prevent weed resistance to any of the chemicals. By using only one chemical over and over, we run the risk of weeds developing a resistance. 3. We are not poisoning our soil or our children. Both of those are our legacy and something we're quite proud of. By the way, have you ever noticed that farmers have been farming with modern techniques almost a century and we're still able to farm the same fields with the same dirt as before. Why? Because we aren't poisoning them.4. Return to cultivating the weeds? Please give me your contact information. I would love to see you go out in the field and pull weeds for us. http://www.thefarmersdaughterusa.com/2014/03/what

  2. Thank you for explaining how farming actually works. We need for more farmers in this debate.

  3. Anonymous

    The agenda of the groups you mention is not self profit like that of the corporations in favor of pesticide use and GMO's. They are in it for health and well-being, for you, for me, for our future generations, and for the earth itself. What does and environmental organization have to gain? There is a lot to understand around this issue. You should not take the word of either party whole heatedly. Do your own research, and not at DOW's website. You need to look and scientific evedience and research directly from the source, and you need to consider sustainable practices.

  4. Anonymous

    It's even more interesting that you filter your replies.

  5. Anonymous

    I don't even believe you are real. You work for Monsanto and don't think we don't know it

  6. Glufosinate was also an option with Liberty Link crops, but for some reason it never became as popular as the glyphosate and Roundup Ready combination. That is unfortunate, in that the use of more LL and glufosinate in rotation with RR and glyphosate might have prolonged the development of weeds resistant to glyphosate. This just backs up your argument that farmers need more options, not fewer.

    • I wasn't familiar with LL until I started researching this article. You're right – it was a lost opportunity and just made our jobs much more difficult.

  7. Hi Amanda, Not all the groups that are opposed to Dow's enlist spray are environmental groups. Some of the people that are opposed to Dow's spray are vegetable growers and grape growers. Obviously these types of plants are very sensitive to the chemical 2-4D and these people have every reason to be concerned about it. Yes I know that Dow did reformulate 2-4D to lower the risk factor that this spray will turn into a gaseous state and affect other crops.

    • Hi Paul! I appreciate the comments and the thoughts. However, my parents are also vegetable and fruit growers. Most of our farms have vegetables or grapes somewhere in the vicinity. While it is possible for the sprays to drift into neighboring fields, we do everything we can to avoid that (spraying when it isn't windy, for example). In fact, we rotate fields with a flowering company that has some pretty delicate flowers grown on it it and we have NEVER had spray drift over and effect the flowers. Never. It definitely isn't the norm (nor should it be!) and we definitely take our neighbors into account.

  8. "When the EPA approved the use of Round-Up for agriculture, that was the only chemical approved for use on biotech products and it remains that way today."This is not correct. Other novel traits and herbicides like LibertyLink and Liberty Independence (glufosinate) that have been approved for years.

    • It should have read (and now does read) "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." You're right, things like Liberty are available, but unfortunately they tend to have more limited use than Round-Up. For example, Round-Up could kill a very large weed, while Liberty is effective against smaller weeds.

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