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Dow GM Soya Crop: A Step Back into the Dark Ages

Immediate release (12 Jun 2009)

Calls to Pete Riley on 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065

Dow AgroSciences’ recent request [1] to the regulatory authorities in Brazil to field test a new GM soya bean tolerant to weedkillers 2,4 D and haloxyfop R has been described by GM Freeze as “a step back into the Dark Ages”.

2,4 D [2], which kills broad leaf weeds, has been approved since the 1940s and was a constituent part of Agent Orange – the defoliant used by the US during the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. It is rated as “moderately toxic” and is considered by some authorities to be a possible cancer-causing agent. It can be washed from the soil after application and has been a pollutant in untreated drinking water in the UK. It is highly toxic to fish. It is still approved for use in the EU.

Dow’s application for the approval of haloxyfop R has been rejected by the EU, citing [3]:

  • The potential contamination of groundwater
  • The risk to mammals
  • The high toxicity to fish

The only GM herbicide tolerant crop currently approved for growing in Brazil is Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) soya, which is tolerant to the weedkiller Roundup. The introduction of RR soya in 1996 was hailed as a way to reduce herbicide use and protect the environment form other, more harmful weedkillers. However new evidence is emerging that casts increasing doubts about the safety of Roundup [4], particularly significant for farmers handling Roundup or people living near sprayed fields. The legal limit on maximum residues was increased two hundred times to accommodate the use of Roundup on GM soya beans imported into Europe, mainly for animal feed [5].

Dow’s new proposed GM may increase residues of 2,4 D or haloxyfop R in soya imports in the future.

In addition, weed resistance to Roundup is developing fast in North and South America, making the GM seeds both ineffective and expensive to use, as farmers now must apply extra weedkillers to kill the resistant weeds. In Argentina, Roundup resistant Johnson grass was first found in 2005, and since then it has infested at least 10,000 hectares of soya land, with some reports saying 100,000 hectares are affected [6]. More and more herbicides are being used to combat resistance following the adoption of RR crops in North and South America.

Weed resistance is now driving the push for new herbicide tolerant crops, such as those being developed by Dow.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

GM Roundup tolerant crops were supposed to reduce weedkiller use and cut out the need for using more toxic chemicals such as 2,4 D. Scientists always warned that the overuse of Roundup would lead to resistance developing in weeds, and that is exactly what has happened. The proposal by Dow to introduce GM soya tolerant to 2,4 D and haloxyfop R is a step back into the Dark Ages – these are exactly the sort of products GM was supposed to phase out.

GM herbicide tolerant crops can now be seen for what they are – a short term fix for companies wanting to make money selling weedkillers. The sooner farmers recognise this and return to crop rotations and other agroecological approaches to control weeds the better.

ENDs

Calls to Pete Riley on 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065.

Notes
[1] See www.aspta.org.br/por-um-brasil-livre-de-transgenicos/updates/update-june-2009/.

[2] See PAN UK Briefing www.pan-uk.org/pestnews/Actives/24d.htm.

[3] See http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/protection/evaluation/existactive/haloxyfop-r.pdf.

[4] Benachour N and Séralini G-E, 2009. Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells, Chemical Research in Toxicology Vol22 No1 pp 97-105 available from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/tx800218n.

[5] See www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199899/cmhansrd/vo990714/text/90714w21.htm#90714w21.htm_sbhd4.

[6] See www.weedscience.org/Case/Case.asp?ResistID=5271.