THE BLOG

Meet the New Monsanto: Dow Chemical... and Their New 'Agent Orange' Crops

02/18/2014 08:00 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2014
  • Andrew Kimbrell Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety
AP Photo/John Flesher

If you're like me, then you are probably overwhelmed with emails and articles opining on the evils of Monsanto -- and for good reason. Monsanto is a chemical company that began genetically engineering seeds in order to sell more chemicals. The company's business model is based on privatizing life, privatizing our genetic heritage (seeds), and poisoning the Earth. But did you know that Monsanto is just one of the major chemical players that have taken over our agriculture? Others include Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont, and BASF. Monsanto is corporate villain number one, providing PR cover for these other companies that do the same thing with far less public attention. That is about to change. There is one company that may even be worse than Monsanto. And unless we act soon, that company is going to start contaminating our farms and our food in ways we have never seen before. Meet the Dow Chemical company.

So how is Dow Chemical becoming the new Monsanto? As we all know, Monsanto has been the leader in producing genetically engineered pesticide-promoting crops (PPCs). By inserting bacterial DNA into corn and soy, Monsanto scientists were able to allow these plants to withstand massive spraying of their weed killer Roundup. Normally, if sprayed over the whole field, the weed killer would kill both the weeds and the crop, but now only the weeds perish and the GE crops survive. Monsanto aggressively promoted these crops, and large farmers adopted it because now they could conveniently spray their fields, even aerial spray, and not have to be careful with their herbicide use. It became convenient for large corn and soy farmers, and a boon for Monsanto as it began selling hundreds of millions more pounds of Roundup.

However, a predictable problem emerged. After a decade and a half of heavy use of these Roundup-promoting crops, many farmers began to see that Roundup was becoming less effective. It stopped killing the weeds. The weeds had adapted, and Roundup-resistant weeds were growing at an alarming rate. Farmers, increasingly desperate, began using more herbicides and mixing in more toxic herbicides. Soon, large conventional corn and soy growers realized that they needed an alternative to Roundup. That's what Dow Chemical was waiting for. The company had genetically engineered new generations of GE corn and soybean varieties that are able to withstand spraying of 2,4-D. The big prize for Dow Chemical is to have their 2,4-D replace glyphosate as the go-to chemical of choice for these non-organic farmers. They only need approval from the USDA, approval that could come as early as March 2014.

2,4-D is far more toxic than Roundup. The chemical has been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, lowered sperm counts, liver disease, and Parkinson's disease. Studies have also demonstrated the chemical's adverse effects on hormonal, reproductive, neurological, and immune systems.

2,4-D is also the seventh largest source of dioxins in our environment. Dioxins are highly toxic chemical byproducts that can bioaccumulate, which means they can build up in your system, and our environment, over time. If Dow Chemical's 2,4-D-tolerant corn and soy crops are approved by the USDA, hundreds of millions more pounds of this toxic chemical will be used on crops, with ever-increasing residues on our food.

Vietnam War veterans will recognize 2,4-D as half of the highly toxic mix that made up Agent Orange. Agent Orange was a defoliant used on the jungles and farm land of Vietnam, and veterans exposed to it suffer a wide range of illnesses, including cancer. The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates that nearly 1 million people have experienced health problems as a result of Agent Orange. It's no surprise then that people are calling the Dow Chemical's new crops "Agent Orange" corn and soy.

As the Vietnam experience shows, Dow Chemical is not a company that most people would choose to make a child's breakfast. For most of its history, Dow Chemical sold products designed to kill. Founded in Midland, Mich., more than 100 years ago, the company made a name for itself mining brine and chlorine. Dow joined the war effort in World War I, building bombs and developing tear gasses. World War II was a boon for the company, and by the 1950s it was one of the largest chemical manufactures in the United States.

Dow Chemical is infamous for its wartime inventions. The company produced Dursban, napalm, and Agent Orange. They've done little to help the victims of the Bhopal chemical spill, even though they now own the company that was responsible for the disaster, Union Carbide Corporation.

Given their history in manufacturing deadly products used by the military, we should not be surprised that Dow Chemical is calling its new genetically engineered varieties "Enlist." Unfortunately, those farmers that enlist in this new technology will be continuing a war against weeds that they cannot win. Just as weeds adapted to Roundup, they will adapt to 2,4-D. Farmers will be left with contaminated fields choked with weeds that they cannot kill. The public will have been subjected to toxic residues on their land, and contaminated water supplies. Only Dow Chemical comes out ahead, collecting billions in profits from selling millions of pounds of this toxic chemical and then simply moving on when it is no longer effective.

We have to stop Dow Chemical before this nightmare scenario becomes a reality.

It's time for the food movement -- organic producers, rural farming communities, urban foodies, chefs, parents, policy makers, and everyone who cares about the food they eat -- to stop Dow Chemical and their "Agent Orange" crops. Dow has already destroyed our world enough.

To learn how you can get involved, visit Dow-Watch.org.