With Memorial Day just a few days away, many across the country will soon stop and remember the meaning of military service and the ultimate sacrifice so many gave — and are still giving. Remembering is what the day is all about. And yet sometimes we can do more than reflect. We can honor vets by listening when they speak, and acting at their urging. Right now, they’re talking – and they’re asking for our help on an issue important to every one of us.
Center for Food Safety strongly supports yesterday’s Vietnam Veterans of America appeal to President Obama on the hazards of 2,4-D resistant corn, developed by Dow Chemical Company, to dramatically increase use of the company’s toxic 2,4-D herbicide. Make no mistake, this is an effort rooted in profit and market dominance, not science. The Vietnam vets of this nation know all too well the price to be paid when the truth is hidden from sight.
As the VVA points out, Dow was a major manufacturer of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, phenoxy herbicides, which together comprised the infamous Agent Orange defoliant dumped in massive quantities on Vietnam to destroy rice fields and rainforests. Vietnam veterans and the Vietnamese people have suffered tremendously from exposure to this toxic biocide. With increasing scientific study, the US government recognizes ever more diseases suffered by vets as being related to Agent Orange exposure. Today, that list includes diabetes, neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, liver dysfunction, chloracne, numerous cancers (e.g. leukemia, lung, prostate, and multiple myeloma), as well as birth defects (e.g. spina bifida) in the children of exposed soldiers.
The toxicity of Agent Orange is generally attributed to its dioxin contaminants. Though 2,4-5-T (banned since 1978) is the worse of the two chemicals, 2,4-D exposure has independently been associated with the deadly immune system cancer non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, hepatitis, lower sperm counts, and birth defects in the children of exposed applicators. 2,4-D is the seventh leading source of dioxin in the U.S., and this excludes dioxin emissions from factories that produce it. While dioxin levels in current 2,4-D are lower than in Agent Orange, a recent Australian study shows that today’s 2,4-D contains as much dioxin as it did twenty years ago, directly contradicting industry assurances to EPA that production improvements have reduced dioxin levels.
Such dishonesty will come as no surprise to Vietnam vets, who know better than anyone how little Dow can be trusted. Dow assured the U.S. military in 1963 that Agent Orange was safe, suppressing its knowledge that dioxins in Agent Orange compounds and their precursors had sickened production workers in Germany and the U.S. In the same year, Dow changed its production process to boost output, despite knowing that this would sharply increase dioxin contamination. And it’s now a matter of public record that Dow, in the mid-1960s, sponsored secret dioxin testing on inmates of a Pennsylvania prison, even as the much larger-scale experiment with its Agent Orange was being conducted on US soldiers and Vietnamese.
Approving crops engineered solely for the purpose of tolerating more of this toxic weed-killer should concern us all. Experts project that a widespread planting of 2,4-D corn will dramatically increase overall use of 2,4-D in agriculture. Use of 2,4-D will sky-rocket from 27 million pounds at present to over 100 million pounds per year. And corn is just the tip of this health-imperiling iceberg. 2,4-D-resistant soybeans and cotton will increase usage still more. And where do you think that will end? A chemical quagmire, that’s where.
Our hope at Center for Food Safety is that President Obama will listen carefully to the Vietnam Veterans of America. If he does, he’ll find that U.S. vets are actually not asking him to do anything at all. They are asking him not to approve this risky crop. Not yet. Not until we know more. Not until science and the public have their chance to speak. After all, a smarter, more measured approach to virtually every issue is always the best answer. Had we walked that path in Administrations past, there would have been no organization called Vietnam Veterans of America in the first place.