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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Sustainable Agriculture: Agent Orange Corn

A decade before most of us were born, the U.S. government contracted chemical companies, such as Dow Chemical and Monsanto, to manufacture Agent Orange for use during the Vietnam War. This deadly defoliant was a mixture of two common pesticides: 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, dubbed Agent Orange because of the orange stripe on the metal drums used to transport it around Vietnam. The U.S. government secretly developed 2,4-D as a chemical weapon under the disguise of agricultural research. When wartime was over, it was marketed to homeowners as a weed-killer for lawn and to farmers as an herbicide.

Despite its sordid history, the Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of evaluating a new GMO corn and 2,4-D pesticide combo-pack. As RoundUp Ready corn and soybeans are resistant to RoundUp pesticide, this new GMO corn and soybean would be resistant to a pesticide containing 2,4-D — one of the ingredients in Agent Orange.

Because 2,4-D is already used at a commercial scale, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that has documented its carcinogenic effects. Some argue that 2,4-D can’t be linked to Agent Orange because it was only one of the two ingredients in the chemical weapon. In 2006, however, researchers clearly linked stomach cancer in California farmworkers to the application of 2,4-D pesticide on agricultural fields. 2,4-D easily volatilizes, or changes from liquid to a gaseous form, and is then ingested through the air by breathing and swallowing. What would approving this new GMO corn and soybean result in? Even more 2,4-D sprayed all over the country!

Farm workers aren’t the only people who have been exposed to and sickened by 2,4-D — many Vietnam veterans have, too.

Vietnam veterans suffer from lymphoma at rates disproportionately higher than the general population. The link between Agent Orange and lymphoma has been so scientifically proven, that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers disability and compensation to any veterans or family members of a veteran who were “exposed to herbicides during the Vietnam era.” The family members of any veteran who died because of exposure to Agent Orange are even entitled to survivor’s benefits.

How do veterans feel about GMO corn that is modified to withstand the spraying of the same chemical in Agent Orange?  The Vietnam Veterans of America, a nonprofit organization dedicated solely to assisting veterans from the Vietnam War, wrote a letter to President Obama asking for his support in opposing the approval of such a poisonous chemical.

Proponents claim that 2,4-D resistant corn and soy will benefit farmers. However, a study on Nebraska farmers linked 2,4-D application to the increased rates of lymphoma in farmers who sprayed the pesticide. Are increased yields worth poisoning our farmers? 2,4-D is a smoking gun for a bullet-riddled problem.

Last year, the USDA faced enough public outcry to require a formal environmental impact assessment by the EPA, now underway. If you would like to voice opposition to the approval of Agent Orange Corn to the EPA, you can comment online at regulations.gov by searching “Dow AgroSciences” on the homepage. Nearly 3,000 people have already commented. Additionally, you can sign a petition at CenterforFoodSafety.org.


To vent frustrations about poisonous chemicals in our food system, email ELLEN PEARSON at erpearson@ucdavis.edu.


EPA Public Comments section

Link to Center for Food Safety’s petition

Study linking 2, 4D to stomach cancer in Californian farmworkers

US Veteran’s Affair Website

Vietnam Veteran’s of America letter to the President

Study on Nebraskan farmers


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