FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

New Seeds, Old Pesticides

I doubt very many people have ever heard or seen a “tank mix.” Simply put, it is a mix of several crop chemicals used together to control a variety of weeds. I have not looked into a swirling mix of chemicals in a crop spray rig for probably 20 years–that’s about how long it has been since we have used any herbicides on our farm.

It may look different now, new chemicals, perhaps new colors and new toxic smells. I remember it as a sulfurous yellow mix of rising spreading plumes of chemicals, circulating and mixing together in the tank. The smell was literally breathtaking and the toxicity likewise. (That’s why it’s recommended that the applicator wear breathing protection and a Hazmat suit.)

When people ask me why we switched to organic farming, that swirling yellow tank mix always reappears in my mind. How did I ever rationalize putting that stuff on my fields?

When genetically modified (GM) crops were introduced commercially in 1996, farmers were told that Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready”(RR) technology would make crop production easier, safer, and “one spray was all they’d ever need.”

Roundup would be a safer, more effective replacement for all those chemicals farmers who were currently using their tank mixes, they told us. With Roundup as the cornerstone of GM crop technology, the promise was safety. We’d have no more worries about weeds, and it would be eternally effective, so there would be no more need for tank mixes.

While I really don’t consider any pesticide safe (after all–they are poisons), Roundup was probably less toxic, perhaps less carcinogenic, and perhaps less of an endocrine disruptor than some of the chemicals it replaced. Perhaps.

I specifically remember 2,4-D (one of the components of the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange) being singled out as a “more dangerous” herbicide that would no longer be needed. Who wouldn’t like that–a dangerous herbicide replaced by an easier to use, safer, permanently more effective one? There was sliced bread and then there was RR.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way. In 1996, Monsanto was fined by the State of New York for false advertising in its promotion of Roundup as “safe.” According to a 2013 Associated Press article, Monsanto acknowledged that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval “is not an assurance or finding of safety” because U.S. regulations are based on a cost-benefit analysis, which balances the potential of “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment” against the “the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of any pesticide.”

Isn’t that something? EPA approval is not an assurance of safety.

Consider the fact that EPA-approval was based on specific recommended quantities, and then, as these products became less effective, the tendency would be to “add a just little more.” But, even with “just a little more,” nature found a way to survive, and weeds developed resistance to Roundup to the point that even a thorough sousing would no longer kill them. Once again the tank mix became the only hope in killing these new, pesticide-resistant “superweeds.”

To help fight resistant weeds, farmers have also been encouraged to develop integrated weed management strategies. Mark Jeschke, Agronomy Research Manager at DuPont Pioneer, notes that “mechanical weed control and crop rotation are examples of two such tactics available to growers.” (These are tactics organic farmers have always used). But for heaven’s sake, the industry says, don’t stop spraying.

The “new generation” of GM crops are on the way and the first out of the pipeline are corn and soybeans that Dow AgroSciences developed to be used in conjunction with 2,4-D. In September, The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the new seeds, as part of a branded “Enlist Weed Control System” that could be going into the ground as early as spring 2015.

Now remember that in 1996 Roundup was touted as the safe alternative to 2,4-D, a dangerous pesticide. Has 2,4-D become safer than it used to be? No.

My guess is that Dow decided it would be cheaper and easier to engineer seeds to resist the old herbicides rather than develop new herbicides that might be less toxic. And, as Tom Philpott at Mother Jones notes, Dow and Monsanto know that planting seeds that withstand both 2,4-D and Roundup would lead to an increase in herbicide use.

In fact, Dow and Monsanto stand to cash in on 2,4-D and Roundup cross-licensing. We are talking big profit potential. Never mind the fact that an Ohio study pointed out that 2,4-D is potentially potent enough to cause a “17 to 77 percent reduction of the marketable fruit and vegetables” on farms close to those where it is sprayed.

The University of Maryland recommends leaving a 350-foot buffer zone (PDF) between fields sprayed with 2,4-D and grapevines, which–along with tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, sweet potatoes, beans, and other vegetables–are highly susceptible to 2,4-D drift.

It would be one thing if the farmer doing the spraying was responsible for leaving a buffer strip between their crops and the neighbors’ vegetables. But the guy with the chemicals can spray right up to the property line. Over the last 20 years I have had to leave many acres of my land in buffer strips. Most farmers try to be good neighbors, but they can’t control the wind.

Weeds resistant to 2,4-D were documented as early as 1957, and still, farmers are hoping that 2,4-D resistant corn and soybeans, especially a 2,4-D/Roundup resistant combination, will be “the one” solution to their problems. And if weed resistance shows up they can “just add a little more”–at least until this system fails and the next GM crop is introduced.

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer in Wisconsin.

This essay originally appeared on Civil Eats.

 

More articles by:

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail