THE BLOG
06/06/2014 10:18 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2014

The Vietnam War Toxin Now Lurking in US Food

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lingering long after the bombs stopped falling in Vietnam, the effects of Agent Orange continue to haunt Vietnamese people and American veterans of the war. Generations later, cancers, birth defects, deformities, and organ failure have all been attributed to exposure to the chemicals produced by Monsanto and Dow Chemical to defoliate Vietnamese jungles. Now Dow Chemical wants to increase the use of 2,4-D, a major component of Agent Orange, on American farmlands.

Dow Chemical learned about the health impacts of Agent Orange as far back as 1965 and kept it a secret even after their own employees began suffering from the same maladies as United States veterans. According to a new video report from the New York Times, when leaked internal memos confirmed Dow's knowledge in 1984, a company representative named Charles Carey still claimed "Agent Orange was a safe product when it was used in the Vietnam War, and it's a safe product today."

Artist Francis Wade's new exhibit "Agent Orange 40 Years On" tells a different story -- the story of the families whose lives have been most affected by this toxic, dioxin-laden chemical. Agent Orange remains a financial burden to the American taxpayer as well. Just a few weeks ago, a new exploratory panel began examining medical claims by Vietnam veterans.

It took years for scientists to fully understand the danger of Agent Orange, but that hasn't stopped Dow Chemical from bringing the specter of Agent Orange to our food supply.

Dow Chemical has genetically engineered pesticide-promoting varieties of corn and soybeans to survive repeated dousing with 2,4-D. The herbicide 2,4-D is considered to be the less toxic half of Agent Orange. But it's also the seventh largest source of dioxins in the environment. According to the World Health Organization, dioxins are highly toxic persistent environmental pollutants that "can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer."

America currently uses about 50 million pounds of 2,4-D every year, mostly on lawns, golf courses and in some agriculture. But this is poised to rise dramatically if we don't take action.

After a decade of massive overuse of the herbicide glyphosate, weeds are becoming resistant to Monsanto's top selling herbicide. 2,4-D is Dow's next step in the ever-escalating chemical war against weeds. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approval of Dow Chemical's new crops would lead to hundreds of millions of pounds of 2,4-D applied to crops every year.

To be clear, 2,4-D is not the same thing as Agent Orange. Agent Orange was a chemical cocktail that included 2,4-D as one of its major ingredients. But the analogy is striking. The military dropped Agent Orange on the jungles of Vietnam because they thought it was a safe way to clear the underbrush. Decades later we learned how deadly wrong they were. Now Dow Chemical would have us apply hundreds of millions of pounds of 2,4-D to our farmlands arguing it is safe. Yet we already know for a fact that 2,4-D is not safe; it is a dangerous source of dioxins and has been repeatedly linked to deadly disease.

In considering Dow's new 2,4-D resistant crops, don't simply picture a corn plant in a field. Picture millions of corn stalks spread over acres of American farm land all being sprayed with dioxin-containing herbicide. Picture the farm workers who will be exposed to that chemical spray. Picture the schools and homes in close proximity to those toxic fields. And remember that this rush to allow 2,4-D resistant crops will soon be for naught, as evolution predictably catches up and gives rise to whole new kind of resistant weed, one that is now resistant to multiple herbicides. Ask yourself, is this really the best way forward?