- EPA has steadily increased the allowable concentration limit of herbicides in food supply
- David Schubert: Herbicide resistant crops present health risks for consumers that cannot be ignored
(CNN)One would expect that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the best interests of the public in mind, but its recent decisions have cast serious doubt upon this assumption.
One in particular could have a dramatic impact on the safety of the U.S. food supply: It is the mandate of the EPA to regulate the use of agricultural chemicals like insecticides and herbicides, as well as to determine their allowable limits in food and drinking water.
Herbicides (weed killers) are mixtures of chemicals designed to spray on weeds, where they get inside the plants and inhibit enzymes required for the plant to live. The active ingredient in the most widely used herbicide is glyphosate, while some herbicides contain 2,4D. 2,4D is best known as a component of Agent Orange, a defoliant widely employed during the Vietnam War. Until the introduction of GM crops about 20 years ago, herbicides were sprayed on fields before planting, and then only sparingly used around crops. The food that we ate from the plants was free of these chemicals.
In stark contrast, with herbicide resistant GM plants, the herbicides and a mixture of other chemicals (surfactants) required to get the active ingredient into the plant are sprayed directly on the crops and are then taken up into the plant. The surrounding weeds are killed while the GM plant is engineered to resist the herbicide. Therefore, the food crop itself contains the herbicide as well as a mixture of surfactants.
To accommodate the fact that weeds are becoming glyphosate resistant, thereby requiring more herbicide use, the EPA has steadily increased its allowable concentration limit in food, and has essentially ignored our exposure to the other chemicals that are in its commercial formulation.
As a result, the amount of glyphosate-based herbicide introduced into our foods has increased enormously since the introduction of GM crops. Multiple studies have shown that glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and likely public health hazards.
Of equal importance in terms of health is the fact that herbicides are now being used to rapidly kill non-GM grain crops at the end of their growing season in order to speed up harvesting. So, a product can be labeled GM-free but still contain high levels of herbicide.
The fact that agricultural chemicals are now inside the food crops that we eat is a fundamental shift in both our food production system and human exposure to toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, it is about to get even worse.
Since 2,4D has been used for over 50 years, its toxicity to farm workers and neighboring populations is well documented. EPA sponsored studies have shown that those repeatedly exposed to 2,4D have an increased risk of Parkinson's disease, cancer and birth defects. Its nonagricultural use is