US pharmaceutical company Dow Agrosciences wants to fight superweeds with corn that has been genetically modified to incorporate a component of the Vietnam war defoliant Agent Orange. It is a bizarre plan to say the least. While superweeds have impacted over 15 million acres of farmland, Agent One is a toxic defoliant that was used by the US military in Vietnam as part of its herbicidal warfare program. In fact, the Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems due to the use of Agent Orange, including 500,000 children born with birth defects.
The problem of superweeds in the US is said to be due to the success of GM crops in the 1990s. Scientists have discovered that as a result, weeds are now able to withstand powerful herbicides. The BBC’s Matt McGrath has reported that the problem lies with Monsanto, who became a world leader in the field thanks to the introduction of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans. These crops were engineered to be able to survive spraying with glyphosate, a chemical marketed as Roundup, but over the past few years the US has seen the growth of Giant Ragweed, one of the “dirty dozen” weeds that have acquired resistance to the pesticide.
“Over the past 15 years I said that if we continued using roundup, roundup roundup, we’re going to have a problem – now we have that problem,” said Prof Knezevic speaking to Matt McGrath. “The reason why we are here is that we all mismanaged this technology.”
So why the hell use Agent Orange? Well, to be precise the US pharmaceutical team wants to use a chemical called 2,4-D, a powerful weed killer, which was a vital component of Agent Orange. Although it’s classed as a herbicide, 2,4-D is used sparingly as it is highly toxic and is thought to have devastating health implications.
“It is an old herbicide, one of the oldest synthetic herbicides around; we’ve used it for over 50 years in many different situations and to quite a large degree, and we haven’t had many cases of resistance develop yet,” Prof Dallas Peterson of Kansas State University stated. “It will certainly help with weed resistance; it’s a new mode of action,”
It is also registered as safe for farming by the US Environmental Protection Agency, but surely using such a toxic chemical will lead to an even bigger disaster?
via BBC News
Images: Wikimedia Commons