Misuse Of A Vietnam Era Tragedy

Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”  There was a perfect example of that last month.  The Center for Food Safety (CFS) spread the term, “Agent Orange Corn” for Dow AgroSciences’ new biotech corn hybrids that are working their way through the regulatory process.   These hybrids have been modified to be more resistant to 2,4-D, an herbicide that was introduced in 1948.  This is being cast as a return to the use of Agent Orange and that is completely untrue.  There is a lot of interesting detail behind this, but the CFS moniker for the corn is a classic case of information twisting – twisting in a way that is intentionally misleading.  The reason that the term “Agent Orange Corn” is inaccurate can be discovered in a 1-minute Wikipedia search, but this did not prevent a host of of bloggers, environmental and Organic organizations, and even “news outlets” from uncritically passing along the disinformation.

The Link Between This New Corn Trait and Agent Orange

A home product with 2,4-D

Agent Orange, a defoliant used in the Vietnam War, was made with two herbicides:  2,4-D (the one that the new corn tolerates), and 2,4,5-T. The 2,4,5-T was unknowingly contaminated with a dioxin, something that was only later recognized as a significant human safety issue.  Yes, 2,4-D was part of Agent Orange, but it wasn’t what made Agent Orange a danger back in the 1960s. In fact, for decades, 2,4-D has continued to be one of the most widely used, safest herbicides in the world.  It is registered in 70 countries, including those with very comprehensive and cautious regulators (Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Japan…). 2,4-D is a component of most consumer products for the control of weeds in lawns. It is used extensively in wheat.  It can already be used on corn up to a certain growth stage.  2,4-D is NOT Agent Orange.

It’s Not The 1960s (that is a good thing!)

There was a very limited understanding of environmental  toxicology in America in the early 1960s.  The modern environmental movement was just beginning, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was not established until 1968.  So during the early 1960s,  terrible mistakes were made with Agent Orange that are completely unthinkable today.  Since that time the scrutiny of new and old pesticides has become comprehensive.  It would be virtually impossible for an Agent Orange-like mistake could occur today, but that is what CFS and its repeaters are implying.

Why is 2,4-D Still Around?

A great many of the pesticides that were in use in the early 1960s have long since been banned or progressively replaced with far, far safer alternatives.  A few, like 2,4-D, have continued to pass safety standards as they have been intensively reviewed and re-reviewed over the decades of increasingly sophisticated analysis.  2,4-D has been scrutinized and challenged from both a toxicological and epidemiological perspective.  In every round of risk assessment, the EPA and its outside experts have concluded that 2,4-D has meets the EPA’s, ever more cautious, standards.

Why Would Farmer’s Want This New Corn?

Farmers in the US and elsewhere have been moving increasingly towards the control of weeds with herbicides rather than with mechanical methods called “tillage.”  This is actually an extremely good thing from an environmental point of view.  An image like that by Leo Breslau below looks romantic, but it actually represents an environmental disaster.

Leo Breslau "Plowing" image from the Smithsonian

Plowed and tilled soils are susceptible to erosion.  Erosion carries not just sediments, but also fertilizers and pesticide residues into streams.  The mechanical disturbance of soil degrades its properties over time so that it becomes less able to capture and store rain and less able to sequester nutrients.  This sort of farming “worked” in many cases only because there was more “virgin land” to start plowing.  Beginning in 1960, some farmers began to experiment with “no-till” farming methods on a commercial scale.  One of the reasons they were able to do that was because herbicides like 2,4-D had become available.  Since the development of herbicide tolerant crops in 1996, the rate of conversion to no-till farming has been accelerating. From an environmental point of view, expansion of no-till farming  is highly desirable, especially if  combined with some other key practices. For farmers to successfully implement no-till farming; however, there must be a range of effective herbicide options.

Resistant Weeds

When any one herbicide is used too much, some weeds can become resistant.  As many experts predicted, this has begun to happen for glyphosate tolerance (Roundup Ready).  The selection for herbicide tolerant weeds is not something new with biotech crops.  It is a problem that has occurred many times, long before GMO crops.  They key is to employ multiple options including herbicides with different “modes of action,” cultural methods like cover crops or planting date shifts, and in some cases the judicious use of tillage.   Recently, some weed scientists have highlighted the need for more sophisticated and varied weed control strategies.   The new corn and soybean types that are coming can be a part of that strategy if employed strategically.  The alternative of returning to mainly mechanical weed control is not an acceptable scenario.

Maize, photo by Shawn Kaeppler

Groups like the Center For Food Safety have generated furor by shouting an intentionally sensational half-truth.  Ironically, this has put them in the position of advocating against a tool farmers need for environmentally sustainable farming.  This new corn, and the soybeans that will follow, are part of what will enable land-use efficient, low environmental footprint farming. They have nothing to do with a 50 year old defoliant. There is absolutely no doubt that the lessons from “Agent Orange” must be remembered.  The innocent victims of Agent Orange deserve that heightened awareness.  What they don’t deserve is to have their tragedy exploited in an irresponsible way.

The “Comment Period” at the USDA about this particular corn technology has been extended until April 27th.  The CFS and its allies are mobilizing people to enter comments.  There is a need for counter-balancing arguments from those that understand the importance of technology in agriculture.  Here is where to comment (USDA BRS Comments) before the extended deadline of 4/27/12.

You are welcome to comment here and/or to email me at savage.sd@gmail.com

Steve Savage is an agricultural scientist (plant pathology) with >30 years of experience in agricultural technology. He has worked for Colorado State University, DuPont (fungicide development), Mycogen (biocontrol development), and for the past 13 years as an independent. He also has a little vineyard in his back yard near San Diego. His website is Applied Mythology. You can follow him on Twitter @grapedoc

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65 comments to Misuse Of A Vietnam Era Tragedy

  • Nice explainer Steve. I think I’ll be linking to that. It’s sure to come up in some of the places that I hang out. Thanks.

  • pam ronald

    Thanks Steve. The integrated weed management review article is very comprehensive and clearly explains the problems with relying on a single weed control strategy.

  • the bug guy

    For a little nuance about 2,4-D. At the agriculture operational level, this is a control chemical that should be handled properly and safely. The label for many of the restricted use formulations of 2,4-D, such as 46% Active Ingredient (AI), have the “Danger” signal word. This indicates the highest level of risk during mix/load operations, during application and for any entry into a treated era before the end of the Re-entry Interval.

    One of the advantages of glyphosate is that even at similar AI (like 41%) in restricted use formulations, the signal word is “caution”, the lowest level of risk.

    There is no doubt that we need additional tools to enable proper rotation of herbicides to manage resistance, but we should remain aware of the risks inherent to agricultural workers and not give unintentionally erroneous impressions.

  • MikeB

    Thanks for this cogent and concise debunking. It has inspired me to go to the link you provide above and add my name to the “petition.” I deleted the message the OCA suggests and put this in its stead:

    Mike Bendzela
    Standish, ME XXXXXXX
    March 10, 2012
    Administrator Gregory Parham
    12th & Jefferson Drive, SW
    Whitten Bldg., Room 313-E
    Washington, DC 20250
    Re: Docket No. APHIS-2010-0103
    Dear Administrator Parham:

    I am a farmer in Maine, a former believer in the “organic” dogma, and I ask you to ignore the nonsense coming from the Organic Consumers Association.

    There’s a very great debunking of the “Agent Orange Corn” scam here:

    Mike Bendzela

  • Bill Freese

    For a supposed myth debunker, Steve Savage is uncritically supporting a few of his own (not surprising for posters to this website, whose very name, suggesting GM crops are more nutritious, or “biofortified,” is an outright lie — the technology is overwhelmingly about pesticide-promoting, herbicide-resistant crops). First of all, there are hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies showing variously that 2,4-D is an endocrine disruptor – suppressing thyroid levels and male sperm counts, for instance, and epidemiologically linked to increased rates of birth defects in the children of those exposed; that farmers applying 2,4-D have a higher incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an immune system cancer (by National Cancer Institute scientists, among others), and Parkinson’s disease; and that 2,4-D is also toxic to the liver… to name a few of the relevant findings. And Steve, it was NEVER only 2,4,5-T that was contaminated with dioxins, 2,4-D also contains it. Even industry’s own tests show that 2,4-D continues to contain low levels of dioxins today! For two objective takes on 2,4-D, with documentation, see http://www.nrdc.org/living/chemicalindex/2-4-D.asp and http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/FSR_24-D.pdf.

    Far from being cautious, the EPA virtually ignores epidemiology in pesticide reviews; virtually ignores “inert ingredients” in pesticide formulations, which can be more toxic than, or synergize with, active ingredients. Finally, EPA is only just now beginning to screen pesticides for endocrine disrupting effects, despite the 1994 Food Quality Protection Act mandating such screening nearly 20 years ago. Of course, one doesn’t expect an objective take on pesticide safety from a former employee of DuPont, one of the largest makers of pesticides in the world.

    Steve, it’s simply not true that herbicide-resistant crops stimulate conservation tillage, as you say. The big increase in conservation tillage (and no-till) came from 1970 to the mid 1990s, and adoption actually leveled out when Roundup Ready crops were being introduced from the mid-1990s to present. See http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/FSR_24-D.pdf for documentation. The epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds fostered by Roundup Ready crop systems has actually driven farmers to increase their use of tillage; 2,4-D-resistant crops will not remedy this, or at most provide a short reprieve, because weeds will rapidly evolve resistance to it as well. The current course of weed management is to ever more multiple HR crops, driving ever more multiple HR weeds, completely unsustainable. For CFS’s summary of a recent paper spelling out these and other hazards of 2,4-D and dicamba-resistant crops, see http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Mortensen-paper-summary-FINAL.pdf.

    For CFS Congressional testimony on glyphosate-resistant weeds, see: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/2010/09/30/center-for-food-safety-testifies-at-congressional-oversight-hearing-on-‘superweeds’-caused-by-biotech-crops/.

    Steve, next time you feel like writing about a topic, try and do some actual research. Talking points from your buds in the pesticide industry just don’t cut it.

    • Bill,

      You are basically saying that the EPA has not done it’s job in the review of 2,4-D. That is a big challenge to that regulatory process. Its not about me or my long past connections. You are saying that we can’t trust our system at all. You are saying that the regulators in dozens of nations around the world have got it wrong on allowing the use of 2,4D (Canada, France, Japan, Germany… ), You cite many studies that have been rejected by regulators from around the world.

      As for “endocrine disruption” the jury is out about this issue. Our water supplies are “contaminated” with birth control chemicals, anti-depressants and much more. Frankly I am more concerned with mycotoxins than any of these things.

      The barriers to the adoption of to no-till adoption are complex. See: http://blog.sustainablog.org/2011/03/sustainable-farming-land-ownership/

      Weed resistance to “roundup” was inevitable. A 2,4-D resistance trait is certainly not a simple solution. Our farmers will have to employ a wide range of strategies to deal with herbicide tolerant weeds. This is not some new phenomenon. It has been an issue even from the days of purely mechanical weed control. Farmers need more tools. What are you offering as an alternative?

    • MikeB

      The Center for Food Safety–not to be confused with the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition–is on Stephen Barrett’s list of “Questionable Organizations” at Quackwatch:


      The names Pusztai and Benbrook should ring a few bells here.

      Their expressed interest is promoting organic food, and we all know how the stock-in-trade of such promotion is debasing, vilifying, and condemning farmers who do not adhere to organic dogma.

    • Ewan R

      For a supposed myth debunker, Steve Savage is uncritically supporting a few of his own

      Kettle, meet pot, pot, meet kettle. Play nicely now.

      whose very name, suggesting GM crops are more nutritious, or “biofortified,” is an outright lie

      Golden rice says you’re a liar.

      First of all, there are hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies showing variously that 2,4-D is an endocrine disruptor

      and yet you fail to link to any of them but do link to sites with clear partisan motivation.

      And Steve, it was NEVER only 2,4,5-T that was contaminated with dioxins, 2,4-D also contains it.

      The following link rather neatly blows the relevance of this out of the water:-


      2,4-D has been produced with contaminant dioxins, but not the harmful TCDD(19).

      For two objective takes on 2,4-D, with documentation

      objective… I don’t think it means what you think it means.

      Of course, one doesn’t expect an objective take on pesticide safety from a former employee of DuPont, one of the largest makers of pesticides in the world.

      Whereas one would expect a former FOE employee to be utterly objective. Ad hominem arguements work both ways (and are equally stupid in either direction I might add)

      The big increase in conservation tillage (and no-till) came from 1970 to the mid 1990s, and adoption actually leveled out when Roundup Ready crops were being introduced from the mid-1990s to present.


      again calls you a flagrant liar – no-till useage has increased from being utilized on 45 M Ha worldwide in 1999 to 111M Ha worldwide in 2009 – over 100% increase in a decade in which you are suggesting a levelling out.

      In the US you are clearly in the wrong again No-tillage was practiced on 15.7 Million acres in 1994 and 26.5 Million acres in 2007 – in what world is this a levelling out? (Table 3 in the linked piece) Your organization has dishonestly used soil loss as the metric for no-till utilization rather than actual, y’know, utilization of no-till (because, one assumes, the real numbers don’t tell the story you want) which I’m guessing shows the pattern it does because first adopters of no-till will be those most prone to soil erosion, so you’d expect the numbers to be skewed to massive early gains with gains being harder to achieve later.

      Steve, next time you feel like writing about a topic, try and do some actual research.

      Sir, you owe me one new monitor and a cup of coffee.

      I’ll settle for the coffee.

      • Charles M. Rader

        On the adoption of no-till: In around 1995 or 1996, I was a member of Greenpeace and got a flier from them about GMO soybeans, and since I remembered the caution that the molecular biologists had displayed in the 1970s, it seemed unlikely that they would have turned into Frankensteins. That was what led me to learn about the science and the politics of GMOs.

        Having learned what I had, I wrote to the director of Greenpeace in the US, expressing my concern that it seemed that Greenpeace had taken the wrong side of the issue, and explaining my reasons, including the increase in conservation tillage. To her credit, she answered my letter – expressing the hope that we could disagree on one issue and I would still support Greenpeace – translation: you members send us money and we run the organization as we see fit. But she also said that the adoption of conservation tillage had levelled out after the adoption of RR soybeans. It seemed to me that the use of conservation tillage had not levelled out – but increased substantially.

        I wondered how she could say something so obviously untrue. You have explained it. They were taking soil loss estimates as a proxy for acres no-tilled. Not quite a lie, but certainly misleading.

        • Ewan R

          Not quite a lie, but certainly misleading.

          Given how easy it is to get hold of the data on acres not tilled I would categorize this as a bald faced lie.

          If you state that soil loss rates have somewhat levelled off (they are still declining at all points in the graph our friend puts forward) then you aren’t lying.

          If you state no till has leveled off based on this data you’re either an idiot or a liar.

    • Hi Bill, welcome back to our little blog. You are a model for civil and thoughtful dialog (of what not to do), and you would do your employer much credit by leaping to its defense if it was not always in this type of manner. Perhaps you misunderstand what this site is all about, which is a good place for me to start with my response.

      You suggest that we are trying to lie with the name of the site. “Biofortified” is a technical term that refers to enhancing the nutritional content of food through genetic means, which includes breeding and genetic engineering. Does our use of Biofortified mean we are trying to tell everyone that all GE crops are nutritionally enhanced? No – and neither does it mean that we think breeding always enhances nutrition. If you will note the tag-line “Stronger Plants, Stronger Science, and Stronger Communication” you will get the meaning. “Biofortified” means strengthened life – so it has a double-meaning. Our goal is to strengthen the discussion of plant genetics, including and especially genetic engineering. If you perhaps took the time to understand who you are accusing of making a lie out of their organization’s name, you might avoid this kind of error. Finally, with regard to your talking point of GE being about “pesticide-promoting” crops – this overly simplistic view obscures the potential of the technology and the direction the development is moving in many countries. We have many posts on this site discussing other uses of the technology, both current and future.

      Your comment is extremely hostile, yet it has been approved on our site. However, whenever I place a politely-worded comment on your employer’s website, which disagrees with the opinion being expressed there – it is always deleted. I should think that if facts are valued at the CFS that this would not occur. I just left a comment on this post linking back to here. Hopefully I will be proven wrong by the moderators of your site, and that it will appear.

      Ewan has provided a link to evidence of the increase of no-till agriculture, and the Conservation Technology Information Center has a search that demonstrates the same thing. If you compare 1995 with 2008, you will see a consistent rise in the adoption of Conservation Tillage (and specifically no-till) in soybeans and cotton, with a small increase in corn. While that alone does not demonstrate that it is due to the adoption of GE herbicide-tolerant varieties, Ewan has provided some additional evidence of this. In an interview I did with Chuck Benbrook two years ago, he indicated to me that he accepted that GE herbicide-tolerant crops have contributed to the increase of conservation tillage/no till, and just to be sure I heard him right, I asked him again and he added the caveat that he didn’t think it increased it significantly on the lands that most needed it, but that it had. I like when I come across nuggets of unique thought on these issues from people who otherwise give pretty monolithic stances.

      On that note, I have read your congressional testimony on weeds, and you brought up some good points about the issue of refuges – wondering whether herbicide refuges would be a good way to slow the resistance of weeds. I noticed that you said that the refuges have worked for Bt crops, and I thought to start a dialog about the weed management issue. For once thing, I think the GE-specific focus is wrong – because it seeks to regulate only GE-derived herbicide tolerance, not those derived through breeding, mutagenesis, etc. A good weed resistance management policy will not favor any method of achieving herbicide tolerance, but instead focus on how these tools are used. But the difficulty of getting anything but a venomous response from you in my inbox for even the most polite of inquiries presents a significant barrier to getting such a dialog to happen.

      Finally, this post is really about how the CFS, by using “Agent Orange Corn” to label 2,4-D tolerant corn, is mis-using the suffering experienced by others in a genuine tragedy to try to drum up political opposition to a GE trait in corn. These are not comparable, and I think it crosses the line. In your attack on Steve, however, you do not defend the use of the “Agent Orange Corn” name. Do you believe that this is an appropriate name that does not mislead people about the nature of the trait, nor misuse the suffering of people for political gain? I anxiously await your response.

      • Ewan R

        Speaking of organizations which lie in their name.

        Center for Food Safety would fare rather well in a contest don’t you think? (right up there with UCS)

        • Since we’re in the process of incorporating as a 501(c)3 ourselves, we are talking about names. Maybe we should just make this the Biofortified Institutional Central Union? That could dilute the effect of fancy nouns like Center, Institute, Union, etc. In their defense, there are precious few words that sound good for this kind of noun. But when there’s an “Institute” run out of someone’s home, there seems to be an imbalance of proportions.

          • Ewan R

            Union of Scientists Concerned about Biofortification and Food Safety.

            And its not the fancy noun that is the lie in either of the above. I’m sure CFS is a center for something, and UCS are certainly a union of somethings.

      • Ewan R

        Hopefully I will be proven wrong by the moderators of your site, and that it will appear.

        Apparently not.

        Its almost like they know they’re making stuff up and are applying censorship liberally to hide this fact from people.

        And by almost like I mean that this is quite obviously exactly what is going on. Just in case anybody wondered.

  • Bill Freese


    FIrst, the EPA along with Canadian regulators are among the most lax in the world when it comes to reviewing pesticides. Dozens of pesticides banned in European countries are legal here. 2,4-D is prohibited in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. See: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/reports/2006/the-food-we-eat-an-international-comparison-of-pesticide-regulations/. Unfortunately, in the US and Canada, a pesticide is, so to speak, endowed with civil rights – innocent until proven guilty “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” It is unknown how many thousands of people have suffered adverse effects from toxic pesticides that remained on the market because 100% proof was lacking. In Europe, human health is taken more seriously than in the US, they follow a “better safe than sorry” approach when substantive evidence points to health risks, even if there is some doubt. For one of the hundreds of studies on 2,4-D pointing to serious health impacts via endocrine disruption, this one relating to higher incidence of birth anomalies in children of 2,4-D-exposed applicators, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8732949

    Second, the jury delivered its verdict on the capability of some chemicals to disrupt our endocrine systems over two decades ago, Steve, you must have missed the mountains of studies in this now well-established field of toxicology over the past 20 years. The evidence is overwhelming and indisputable, which is why Congress ordered EPA, in the Food Quality Protection Act, to screen pesticides for endocrine-disrupting effects. Endocrine disruption happens when synthetic chemicals mimic hormones; hormones are active at incredibly low doses, as are their synthetic mimics. Hormonal disruption is particularly damaging in the developing fetus, where hormones are directing the assembly of a living being, including brain development. See http://www.ourstolenfuture.org for a primer. Despite the 1996 law, EPA is only now beginning to screen pesticides in this program. And indisputable endocrine disruptors like atrazine (which feminizes male frogs exposed to incredibly low doses) remain legal in the U.S. (though banned in Europe).

    You are dead wrong that weed resistance to glyphosate/Roundup was inevitable, Steve. Mandatory resistance management programs limiting the use of RR crops and/or glyphosate could quite possibly have staved it off. (There were virtually no glyphosate-resistant weeds for the first 20+ years of glyphosate use, it exploded only starting in year 2000 after RR crop introduction.) EPA considered such regulation, but unfortunately went forward only with Bt resistance management, which has been largely successful in preventing Bt resistance in European corn borer. One reason was that Monsanto scientists argued Roundup was “invincible” to resistance in the mid-1990s, a position it took to make regulation seem unnecessary. RR soybean patents expire in 2014, which is when Monsanto plans introduction of patented dicamba-resistant soybeans. Growers with glyphosate-resistant weeds will be the prime market for expensive new dicamba-resistant soybeans, so it’s understandable that Monsanto actively promoted continuous use of RR crops and Roundup, which both maximized profits and fostered more rapid evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds (see http://www.weeds.iastate.edu/mgmt/2004/twoforone.shtml), which in turn gives growers reasons to purchase the new patented HR crop versus cheap, soon to be generic Roundup Ready.

    You ask what farmers can do to combat glyphosate-resistant weeds. For one, “respect the rotation,” since crop rotation breaks weed cycles. Two, cover crops, which when used properly can provide substantial weed suppression benefits. For more on this, along with problems with 2,4-D crops and the HR crop paradigm, see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120209135840.htm. Steve, be aware that 2,4-D is very drift prone, the #1 culprit in drift injury complaints, and the huge increase anticipated with 2,4-D-resistant crops will increase episodes of crop damage dramatically – grapes are particularly sensitive, and vineyard operators have long been a major victim of 2,4-D. Protect your grapes! For a documented overview of 2,4-D crops, see http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/FSR_24-D.pdf.

    I am noting a real upsurge in mainstream support for cover cropping, which you seem to support as well. Interestingly, this sustainable practice has for decades been primarily used in organic farming. Let’s hope mainstream agriculture learns more from organic in the future, like the unsustainability of massive pesticide use.

    • Bill,
      well, in this case those European regulators agree with the US, Canada and Japan and have continued to approve 2,4-D.
      As for weather human health is taken more seriously than in the US, their slow movement on smoking would suggest otherwise. Frankly, there are many reasons that I would not want to imitate the Europeans. They are hugely dependent on food imports from around the world yet resist technologies that could make them more productive. They let politics trump the conclusions of their scientists. You are welcome to go live there; however.

      As for endocrine disruption I’m well aware of it. As with anything the conclusions should rest on the science. In the case of the Atrazine frog thing, the low rate results from the Berkley lab have not been repeatable elsewhere. That is a rather basic criterion for good science.

      Many weed scientists were quite active in promoting the need for more rigorous herbicide resistance management. It took longer for resistance to arise to glyphosate than to other herbicides, but long before GMO crops there were examples in Australia. Weed resistance cannot logically be managed with refugia as for Bt and insects. Rotation helps, but certainly does not solve all the issues. Rotation only “breaks weed cycles” to the extent that there are shifts in the timing of tillage or of canopy closure, unless of course the farmer is able to use different selective herbicides on the different crops. Again, herbicide tolerant crops are not so different from what has happened with other families of herbicides in the past with no GMO link. Even tillage selects for the weeds like Native Bindweed and Canada Thistle which are actually quite efficiently spread around a field by tillage.

      Cover cropping is indeed a good thing and is picking up some momentum, but I believe that the main barrier to that is the same as to no-till and other approaches which have a long-term benefit. A huge proportion of our prime farmland is rented on an annual cash basis. A farmer does not know how long he/she will be able to lease any given field. Long term investments in soil quality don’t make economic sense in that scenario. A great deal of this land is in the hands of the families who once farmed it and have long since moved to the cities. They have little if any contact with what is being done and wouldn’t know whether someone was carefully improving their asset through good soil building practices. Often the land is in a trust for estate purposes so that no one person could make decisions that might trade short term rent income for long term asset improvement. The key to sustainable farming may rest in the hands of non-farmers who just happen to have inherited the land

      • One more point. The reason that you can’t manage weeds with refugia is that they can often self pollinate. It is not like insects where they have to mate with another individual so that unless the resistance trait is dominant, it will not result in resistance in a heterozygous individual. (Genetics folks, did I get that right?)

        • Charles M. Rader

          I thought that generally sexual reproduction speeds up evolution, not the other way around.

          • Benjamin Edge


            Sexual reproduction does increase variability, which natural selection can act on, leading to evolution. Self pollination is still sexual reproduction, just as cross pollination is. The problem with self pollination (from a resistance standpoint) is that it is the most complete type of inbreeding, which results in homozygotes, recessive or dominant, being produced at a higher rate than with cross pollination. Therefore self pollinated individuals will give a higher likelihood of producing offspring that are homozygous (true breeding)for resistance than will a cross pollinated species.

        • Good point – high-dose / refuge strategies rely on the ability of outcrossing to dilute resistance alleles, and self-pollinating weeds will not succumb to this ploy. So it would seem, then, that rather than a “refuge” it would be better to make sure that herbicides that are used are rotated, along with the crops they are used on, to keep changing up the selection pressures from year to year so that the weeds can’t catch up.
          Which is why it is probably better not to regulate the manner in which an herbicide tolerance trait is generated, but how it is used. I wonder if it would be easier and more effective to regulate how often farmers use certain herbicides?

  • Ewan R

    this one relating to higher incidence of birth anomalies in children of 2,4-D-exposed applicators

    Birth anomalies in pesticide applicators in general, this says nothing either way about 2,4-D (there is a bit in the text, but the data show nothing other than that applying pesticides appears in a worst case scenario to increase your chance of having a child with birth defects from 1.8% (best case scenario – non applicator living in non ag area) to 3% (worst case scenario -applicator in crop area)

    One would think of the 100′s of studies you’d present something a little more specific to the herbicide you’re concerned about.

    • Ewan is correct, this study from 1996 does not pinpoint 2,4-D as a culprit – they look at all pesticide applicators as a category. For herbicides, they note that the majority of the herbicide usage in the state is 2,4-D, (and they also include another related herbicide in the 2,4-D data although it is not 2,4-D) however this does not provide information about which chemicals may be contributing to this increase in risk. In the discussion, they actually argue against the role of 2,4-D in birth defects in the discussion:

      With regard to biologic plausibility, epidemiologic studies of chlorophenoxy herbicides (23,24) in general do not suggest an association between use of 2,4-D and increased frequency of birth anomalies. Animal studies reviewed by Stevens and Sumner (25) do not indicate that 2,4-D or its analogues are biologically significant teratogens. On the other hand, in a 1993 review conducted by Schardein (26), several animal studies cited indicate that 2,4-D and its analogues can be teratogenic. However, both reviews suggest that a major suspect variable in these animal studies centers on 2,4,5-T and possible dioxin contamination. For 2,4-D, there is limited evidence for genotoxicity in short-term bioassays(27).

      Scientific research and academic papers, if done right, consider all the available evidence and weigh their significance together before forming a conclusion. The CFS report on 2,4-D does not do this. I’d also like to note that at the end, it is stated that organic farming uses non-toxic methods – while it is true that non-toxic methods are employed, there is no mention of the fact that there are toxic methods employed in organic agriculture as well – some are more toxic than conventional ones. While not stating a falsehood, the brief section on organics implies a falsehood.

      • MikeB

        From B. F.

        Let’s hope mainstream agriculture learns more from organic in the future, like the unsustainability of massive pesticide use.

        From K. H. v M.

        I’d also like to note that at the end, it is stated that organic farming uses non-toxic methods – while it is true that non-toxic methods are employed, there is no mention of the fact that there are toxic methods employed in organic agriculture as well – some are more toxic than conventional ones. While not stating a falsehood, the brief section on organics implies a falsehood.

        FWIW: At a recent new farmers workshop, I learned the extent to which organic farmers use pesticides.

        Afterward, I had about five minutes to chat with an orchardist (apples) before he had to leave. I learned that he grows both “organic” and “conventional” apples (I’ve come to loathe those terms, hence the scare quotes). In a typical season, the “conventional” trees receive 12 sprays–whereas the “organic” trees receive 22 sprays! His comment was, “sulfur, sulfur, and more sulfur.” New England is cold, wet, dark, and fungal. It’s state “flower” should be a toadstool.

        I also learned that the “organic” trees produced only 25% of what the “conventional” trees produced. “Those trees are not healthy,” was his comment.

        Why does he bother growing “organic” apples, then, given the labor, the time, the low productivity, the fuel costs? Because of the price commanded, due in part, I suspect, to groups like CFS and the Environmental Working Group that tell fibs about pesticides in order to try to scare people away from “conventionally-grown” fruit.

        Pesticides work. They keep trees productive and healthy. Hence, my new pesticide applicators license and backpack sprayer for our 60 heirloom apple trees.

        • Chad

          I think the issue is that “Those trees are not healthy.” Organic chemicals (and they are chemicals – even water is a chemical, after all) applied with the same allopathic mindset as is frequently used with conventional chemicals are bound to have the results your acquaintance had.

          I would counter that he might have more luck addressing why the trees aren’t healthy. Rather than mask the underlying problem with ever more spraying of ever-more expensive and toxic chemicals, organic or conventional, why not try a holistically-interpreted soil test. All of that sulfur he’s been spraying has got to have done serious damage to the mycorrhizal fungi that are so critical to good tree health, for example. How is the diversity of nectary plants to support parasitic wasps and pollinators throughout his orchard?

          I have found that I get about 80% of the yield of top-quality fruit organically, while focusing most of my energy on soil health and diversifying the ecosystem in my little orchard as compared to conventionally. But I get about 115% of the total yield of fruit of at least cider quality, an better consistency of yield year-to-year. I only spray 5 times per year (unless an untimely rain washes off my kaolin clay coating) – less frequently than before. And my bees are much happier!

          I don’t care what class of chemical you spray your fruit with, if the trees aren’t healthy, the fruit won’t be either. Focus on tree and ecosystem health, and you’ll get better, healthier fruit whether you’re using organic or conventional methods.

          • One of the things I notice in farming-system-level debates is that sometimes someone will chime in and say “This doesn’t work for me” and another will say “This works for me just fine – you are doing something wrong.” Keep in mind, though, that farms have different local conditions, such as weather, pests, soil types, climate, water tables, etc. It is not so easy to say that what works on your own farm will solve all the problems on someone else’s farm.

            Also, about the “allopathic” versus “holistic” distinction – what you are doing is still a reductionistic intervention, but taking into account additional variables. (Soil fungi, parasitic wasps, etc) How does one holistically interpret a soil test? If you are talking about true philosophical holism, you cannot even say that the sulfur has caused the damage – that is a reductionist conclusion. Holism holds that systems are indivisible wholes.

            I’m always happy to hear about happy bees!

            • Also, about the “allopathic” versus “holistic” distinction – what you are doing is still a reductionistic intervention, but taking into account additional variables. (Soil fungi, parasitic wasps, etc) How does one holistically interpret a soil test?

              Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! This can’t be repeated enough. “Holistic”, like the “Precautionary Principle”, is a pie in the sky ideal, not an obtainable reality. These might make good models to approach, but you can never truly reach them. This is an often missed point.

              My bees are flying today! Yea! They may make it after all…

          • Chad, how about you tell us where you grow and what your yield is in pounds per acre so we can compare it to the USDA averages there and elsewhere.

            By the way, plant diseases in insect damage occur all the time on plants in the wild. It is part of nature and having it in farms is no surprise.

          • MikeB

            I think the issue is that “Those trees are not healthy.” Organic chemicals (and they are chemicals – even water is a chemical, after all) applied with the same allopathic mindset as is frequently used with conventional chemicals are bound to have the results your acquaintance had.

            This is a large orchard, with over 300 conventional and 100 organic trees. It was clear from the context that by “those trees are not healthy” he meant the “organic” trees were infested and disease-ridden, whereas the conventional trees nearby were healthy and produced well.

            (Did you say “allopathic mindset”???)

            P.S.==kaolin is a chemical.


          • Chad,
            Here is part of the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet” for “Surround” which is a common brand of kaolin clay like you are using

            Health Effects from Likely Routes of Exposure:
            Ingestion: No adverse health effects are expected from swallowing.
            Inhalation: May cause irritation of the respiratory tract. Prolonged exposure
            may cause lung damage.
            Skin Contact: May cause skin irritation.
            Eye Contact: Dust may cause irritation and inflammation.


            I know that is pretty tame, but what if someone were to write a headline saying, “Organic apple grower sprays known respiratory, skin and eye irritant”

  • Joe B

    This has been an interesting discussion and comment section. The fact that herbicide and pesticide residue does remain on food is enough for me to support my local organic CSA, which provides roughly 75% of my family’s food. I am not an overtly political person or someone who is an advocate for x or y cause–I am simply a person who does not want to ingest noted dangerous chemicals, even in small amounts, as many will build in concentration within our bodies over time and produce, potentially, negative effects. I simply do not see the benefit of willfully ingesting industrial chemicals. Discussions on agent-orange-like or agent-orange-component seem to be missing a major point: will consumer concern be reduced because a herbicide is only part of a tragic creation? The growth in organic agriculture is providing the beginning of an answer. http://www.ota.com/organic/mt/business.html

    • the bug guy

      Organic produce is not free of pesticide residues. Organic farming allows the use of many crop protection chemicals that can be considered toxic. In some cases, the materials allowed under organic regulations are more acutely toxic or have greater environmental persistence than their conventional counterparts.

    • MikeB

      Joe, I think you’ve perfectly encapsulated the central message of the organic movement in all its deceptive absurdity.

      I am simply a person who does not want to ingest noted dangerous chemicals, even in small amounts, as many will build in concentration within our bodies over time and produce, potentially, negative effects. I simply do not see the benefit of willfully ingesting industrial chemicals.

      This is almost pitch-perfect Environmental Working Group/ Organic Consumers Association nonsense. It is as un-scientific — even anti-scientific — as claims that “CO2 is not a pollutant because it is critical for plant growth.” It just turns the issue of EXPOSURE on its head.

      This is absolutely the central concept, exposure — or DOSE, or CONCENTRATION — because it makes all the difference for the material you are discussing.

      Let me explain:

      CO2 is indeed the critical material for photosynthesis in plants; but at certain concentrations in the atmosphere, it begins to have greenhouse effects and leads to a cascade of undesirable consequences. So both statements — “CO2 is critical for plant growth” and “CO2 is a pollutant” — are TRUE, depending on how much we’re talking about and where it is.

      Likewise, the issue of “dangerous chemicals.” The organic movement would like you to think that the dose and the route of exposure of these “chemicals” are irrelevant, that they are all dangerous at all levels.

      OK, then. Ten pounds of firewood burning for one hour releases 4,300 times more more carcinogenic compounds (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)than 30 cigarettes. Therefore, I’m sure you would never, under any circumstances, support any organic farms that burn any wood products, including those that burn brush on their lands or heat their greenhouses with firewood.

      Also: One cup of coffee contains thousands of “chemicals,” most of which have never been tested for harm. However, there are 19 know carcinogens in a cup of coffee. So, to be consistent in your argument, you would never willingly ingest any coffee or any products made with coffee at any dose whatsoever.

      Let’s say you have your well tested and you find it has arsenic in it. They tell you, however, that the levels are below the tolerances set by the EPA. Are you still going to shut that well down? To be consistent in your argument, you would.

      Now let’s look at one of the “dangerous chemicals” you think are so harmful to your family. I use Imidan (phosmet) in my little orchard to control plum curculio, because if I don’t control plum curculio I will end up not having any apples, period. The use of Imidan is much, much more regulated than substances like woodsmoke and coffee.

      For example: I’m not allowed to spray more than 13 pounds of Imidan per acre per year. I’m required to wear gear that protects me from exposure to the substance while spraying. I’m required to establish a REI (re-entry interval) of three days for workers (which we don’t have here — we’re all owner-operators). We’re required to establish a 14-day interval between spraying and any public contact (such as pick-your-own, which we are not). In our case, by the time anyone comes into contact with any apples from our orchard that have been sprayed with Imidan, at least two full months have passed.

      So what is left of the Imidan on the apple? Virtually nothing. There exists detection equipment now that can identify substances at unbelievably low levels, but these levels are at orders of magnitude below tolerances set by Federal standards. They’re lower than the concentrations of just about any “natural” pesticidal chemical you eat in everyday food.

      But if you’re the Environmental Working Group, you vilify my apples as “poison apples” in your “dirty dozen” propaganda. Never mind that that hazards are virtually non-existent. Never mind, too, as I say above, that organic orchardists need to double the number of times they spray their orchards with “organic” pesticides, to protect unhealthy trees that produce only 25% of what trees sprayed with conventional pesticides produce.

      No — just be afraid. That’s the “organic” message.

      In short: there’s nothing wrong with buying that local organic food from the CSA, but if you’re paying more for it because you think it’s “safer,” you’re a fool.

  • Joe B

    Bug Guy, you are completely correct. I found this link to a study that supports what you are saying for (some) organic pesticides: http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html

    The farmer I buy produce from directly does, though, avoid organic pesticides, which points to the need to truly understand where your food comes from if, as a consumer, pesticide and herbicide danger is important to you.

  • Joe B

    Mike, I find your argument that because carcinogens can be found in other areas of our life we should accept and willfully ingest those “low levels” of industrial chemicals some choose to place on their crops, whether conventional or organic. Your description of the precautions you take with the pesticide you use is meant to, what, prove how safe it is? If you would not produce apples without it, are you producing the right crop for your environment–there were apples being grown before the rise of pesticides. I pay for my values, and I value food that comes directly from a farmer I know. I do not pay considerably more (on a beginning teacher’s salary in central Indiana I could not pay considerably more), and I view your diatribe against organic agricultural practices/ the rise in consumer concern for what is on their food as more existential fear than anything else.

    • Joe B

      I suppose I should finish a thought–in the middle of grading papers, ironically! “I find your argument that because carcinogens can be found in other areas of our life we should accept and willfully ingest those “low levels” of industrial chemicals some choose to place on their crops, whether conventional or organic, weak.”

      • MikeB

        “I find your argument that because carcinogens can be found in other areas of our life we should accept and willfully ingest those “low levels” of industrial chemicals some choose to place on their crops, whether conventional or organic, weak.”

        Except that that wasn’t my “argument.” You literally did not hear what I said.

      • Ewan R

        Mike is arguing that if you’re avoiding conventional produce to avoid

        ingest noted dangerous chemicals

        to be totally consistent with this approach you’d have to pretty much stop eating. I believe he wanted an explanation as to why you’re only applying this approach with regards applied chemicals which have been rigorously tested and which have levels of presence which have been demonstrated to have no observable effects, whereas other noted dangerous chemicals (such as caffeine) one assumes (perhaps wrongly, I don’t know) get a pass.

        • Joe B

          That is clearer, Mike, but I still think the argument is weak–I’m not attempting to be hypocritical, and I do understand the chemical-laden world we live in, but my larger point is that we should be working to avoid exposure to chemicals rather than saying, “According to X, there have been no observable effects,” or “The dangerous chemical I cannot touch will not affect you two months from now.” The fact of that potency is not something I want to be exposed to–whether as a microscopic residue months later or a drift from a distant field. Steve’s discussion of the prevalence of conventional farming practices and the resistance growing in various weeds shows we cannot spray our way out of every problem. I support organic agriculture because of the general attempt to avoid pesticides and herbicides rather than use them as a default solution. No system is perfect, which points, again, to the need to understand exactly where your food comes from, and that is a point I believe we can agree on.

          • the bug guy

            Actually, most farms use Integrated Pest Management protocols to varying degrees and one of the basics of IPM is that pesticides and herbicides are not the default solution.

            If you look at the USDA residue data, you will find that the majority of produce have no detectable residues. Because of the sensitivity of modern equipment, many residue detections are well below concentrations that could potentially be toxic. So, even for conventional crops, you are not even exposed to residues with most of what you consume and what residues are present are well below (often by orders of magnitude) levels of concern.

            As an FYI, I work in a hazardous waste facility and hold a public health pesticide license. Because of these, I am very aware of chemical hazards and take care to minimize my exposure. I’ve looked at the data on pesticide residues and I’m not worried about the food I’m eating.

          • Joe,
            When you use the term “we” about something to do with farming I assume you don’t mean it literally (as in you also farm). You certainly have the right to buy whatever kind of food is available to you that fits your belief system. You don’t however have the “right” to tell most of the people to farm how “we” should do it. Unlike many industries, farming produces something without which none of can survive. It is a high risk enterprise in many ways. It is already an intensely regulated industry. So go ahead an make your personal food choices, but it isn’t appropriate for you to try to tell the less than 1% of the population that farms how to do it.

            • Joe B

              My use of “we,” Steve, refers to the general population, as in we, generally, should do what we can to avoid our exposure to pesticides, as many are, and you agree, dangerous. My first job was on my grandfather’s conventional farm, so the claim of ignorance to conventional farming practices inherent in your parentheses is unwarranted–however, I suppose the characterization is easier than agreeing that we should have a strong understanding of where our food comes from and what it has been exposed to before making final decisions at our local grocer/ farmer’s market.

          • MikeB

            I support organic agriculture because of the general attempt to avoid pesticides and herbicides rather than use them as a default solution.

            I spent five hours yesterday raking leaves in my orchard and burning them to “pinch off” scab infection before it happens, because, you see, I don’t enjoy having to pay for Captan and having to spend a few hours walking around with a four-gallon backpack strapped to me.


            Your statement quoted above sounds like OCA propaganda, and it’s the kind of statement that really burns my ass because it shows just how deeply the propaganda has penetrated.

            Yeah, we “non-organic” farmers just can’t wait to spray them pesticides around.

            • It is a rather odd assumption that if you can get around using something you’ll use it anyway.

              Although the general organic (to be an ass and lump everyone into a single unrealistic bucket – and here I’m referring to the zealous) stance does appear to be that any farmer who doesn’t do it their preferred way is in fact a blithering moron who doesn’t have the first clue what to do, an approach which has a name in the farming business – bankrupt.

    • Joe,
      2,4-D is not actually a confirmed carcinogen at all. Apparently there were some epidemiologcal studies that suggested such a link several years ago, but it was based partially on interviews with family members of people who applied pesticides and later died of cancer. Some of the interviews were with the actual applicators. In either case it was only the interview used to determine whether the person actually applied 2,4-D. When later studies from other areas failed to find any connection to 2,4-D they went back to the original study and found that if you removed the family-member-only responses (which were probably just guesses), the “link” went away.

      Again, if a real link between 2,4-D had ever been documented (and many many people have tried), it would not still be registered for broad and even homeowner use in the US. The EPA does its job and in this era of right wing clamoring for its closure, it does not need unfair attacks from other quarters. If even Germany and Japan still approve it, you can be even more certain.

      There is an extent to which it is impossible to prove a negative. Because of the history with Agent Orange, 2,4-D has probably been scrutinized more than just about any other compound.

      By the way, a very large proportion of apples are grown in the western US just because it is so much harder where it rains a lot in the growing season. For those of you who want locally grown produce, it isn’t fair for you to demand that your local grower simply suffer the damage from pests. Actually, if they do (and use the apples for cider which does not require that the fruit be undamaged), there is a good chance that a fungal infection of the insect injuries will contain the mycotoxin patulin. There is a cider company in Michigan I believe which has had a history of recalls for that problem.

  • Joe,
    Life is full of toxins, mostly those made by plants to try to defend themselves. That is why the cells in our body that are most exposed (e.g. intestinal lining, skin…) have a life span of a few days and then die based on programmed cell death and are replace with new ones. Ewan is right that the most studied chemicals are the ones that are registered pesticides. We certainly know whether any of those accumulate over time and such things are not allowed. Companies spend >$200 million to register a new chemical because of all the testing that is required. Copper compounds are very extensively used in Organic because it is one of their few disease control options. Copper materials have managed to stay registered, but I assure you no one would try to register something with their toxicity and environmental persistence profile today.

    As for the growth of Organic, in the US as 0f 2008 it represented 0.7% of cropland. It is indeed growing, but at the rate it has grown for some time it will still be less than 3% of US cropland by 2050. We will have a new data point when the 2012 Census of Ag is published next year.

    The growth in sales is bigger, but a large part of that comes from imports of grains, juice concentrates and frozen items from China and elsewhere. You can find a great many observers who don’t agree with me on much who share my skepticism that there is anything close to enough scrutiny of such sources to believe that the Organic consumer is getting what they think they are buying.

  • amorpha

    I use glyphosate to suppress/control cool-season-eurasion weeds like brome and fescue in my native seed plots. Monsanto ruined one of the safest pesticides ever invented by allowing farmers to “broadcast” it on too many crops, in too many places. My native seed plots yield $1,000 per acre yet a neighbor who used 2,4-D to kill alfalfa so he could plant corn (because glyphosate resistant weeds were supposedly in the alfalfa) adjacent to us was not penalized by state “regulators” when his chemical application drifted onto our fields and reduced our seed crop by 70%. I hate 2,4-D. It drifts. It cannot be controlled. It will blind people who mishandle it during mixing. It will kill broadleaf “weeds” offsite that supply pollen to native bees and beneficial insects all for a few more bushels per acre. Let’s put this in perspective. You can raise corn, beans, other crops without herbicides. You can get your butt out of the cab and pull a few resistant weeds. You get your kids away from their phones or video games or whatever electronic devices they are addicted to and get them out in the fields soaking up vitamin D and burning off some of the corn syrup laden sodas they suck on. This is not an either or situation. A little labor and mechanical control can be paired with herbicides to reduce weed pressure. At a certain point the cost of chemicals is not repaid by yield. But most farmers are too stupid to work the numbers. They just do what the Monsanto agronomists tell them to do.
    This is why I grow most of my own produce (weeds like nettles and lambs quarters) and only eat organically raised meat if I bother with it at all. Our lack of imagination will kill us in the end: duh, I see a flower, guess I better spray the field with 2,4-d amine with a temperature inversion on the way. Drool.

    • OrchidGrowinMan


      Interesting. I certainly agree with you about the need for and the appropriate labor for pulling weeds, but I have no experience to tell me that 2,4-D has a particular propensity to drift. Is it that an aqueous spray evaporates to extremely small buoyant droplets?

      • the bug guy

        It is commonly sprayed in a fine mist with very small droplets from the emitter. Fine sprays like that are much more susceptible to drift than larger droplets.

        • the bug guy

          It is also the responsibility of the applicator to ensure that drift into nontarget areas does not occur. Those responsible in amorpha’s case should have been held accountable.

    • I’m not sure why it is fair that you can utilize glyphosate on your plots but other farmers cannot on theirs – should products which are useful to you *only* be useable by you? How does one police such a situation?

      Can you back up that other farmers are too stupid to run the numbers and just spray whatever they want, or are you just fallaciously accusing everyone who doesn’t operate exactly how *you* think they should of being stupid (an act I believe I highlighted above)

  • Steve savage

    2,4-D was somewhat volatile which could lead to down wind problems. Dow has developed a new salt formulation which apparently solves that problem

  • Bill Freese

    Interesting perspectives, amorpha. 2,4-D has in fact been the number one culprit in drift/crop injury complaints in surveys covering 1996-1998 and 2002-2004 conducted by state pesticide regulatory officials (http://aapco.ceris.purdue.edu/htm/survey.htm)], so you are far from alone in suffering 2,4-D drift damage. Bug Guy, you should check out those surveys, they show that the culprit (applicator and/or herbicide) in many drift complaints is never found — it can be very difficult to prove who was responsible in any given case, and sub-lethal damage that reduces yield and by how much is also a very tricky thing to demonstrate.

    2,4-D use will increase sharply with introduction of 2,4-D-resistant corn, soybeans and cotton, and it will be shifted to later in the season, when damage to neighbors’ crops will be more likely. Dow is indeed claiming it has a less volatile formulation (choline salt), but it will not significantly mitigate the drift injury problem for several reasons. First, it is well known in farm country that pesticides often get sprayed when they shouldn’t, in windy conditions. This problem has become worse as more and more spraying is done by commercial applicators (hired by farmers) who have schedules to keep, and are so under strong financial pressure to get the job done regardless of weather conditions. For particle drift (drift upon application), volatility isn’t the main issue, wind speed is. For instance, glyphosate is not very volatile and yet is the number 2 culprit in drift complaints. Volatility comes into play later, when a pesticide volatilizes from surfaces it’s been applied to, and increases with temperature. A key factor with 2,4-D is its potency – doesn’t take much to cause damage.

    Second, there are many manufacturers and formulations of 2,4-D, which has long been off-patent. Dow’s new 2,4-D will likely be a good deal more expensive. So even it if is less drift-prone (and the jury’s out on that), many farmers will be likely be using cheaper generic versions that are more volatile. When you consider all the factors, 2,4-D drift injury to sensitive crops (which include grapes, tomatoes, soybeans, cotton, most broadleaf plants) will almost certainly increase dramatically with introduction of 2,4-D-resistant crops.

    • Charles M. Rader

      Why not make the pesticide manufacturers put individualized tagants into each lot of spray-able poison, as some have proposed doing with ammunition?

      • the bug guy

        I suspect more of the problem is inadequate investigation, whether through inattention or lack or resources, I don’t know. I’ve been involved in spray drift legal cases and many can be proven or disproven with basic physics and chemistry.

    • When you consider all the factors, 2,4-D drift injury to sensitive crops (which include grapes, tomatoes, soybeans, cotton, most broadleaf plants) will almost certainly increase dramatically with introduction of 2,4-D-resistant crops.

      While ostensibly true this does have a rather large caveat to it – if 2,4D tolerance is widely adopted in say cotton, soy and corn – then 2,4D drift injury in these crops has the capacity to decline – to make a decent assessment one would have to see where the major areas likely to adopt 2,4D are, which crops are likely to be 2,4D tolerant, and what the average drift injury per unit of use (or possibly area of use) is.

      Its pretty obvious that the number will increase, as drift injury is likely driven to a large extent by amount used – unless your argument is that anything which *can* cause drift injury should be banned then this is simply something that has to be accepted, and legislated/regulated correctly.

  • All this discussion of “superweeds” reminded me of a time, nearly twenty years ago when I was part of a research group that unwittingly selected for resistance in a weed called Poa annua (annual bluegrass). We were developing a biocontrol agent. I know its sort of tacky to put a link to one’s own blog, but I just wrote a quick post about this story -


  • [...] am posting his 3-9-12 article here.  If you would like to read the original article, please click here. If you would like to visit Steve’s web site, please click [...]

  • [...] Bittman article- incorrectly implies that 2,4-D was why Agent Orange was toxic (see here). Implies a health [...]

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