9 Farmer's Market Favorites Under Attack

New GMOs threaten tomatoes and other garden and farmer's market staples.

April 20, 2012

Two new types of GMOs could spell disaster for tomatoes and other specialty crops.

Can you imagine a summer without tomatoes? It could happen if chemical companies get their way and gain approval for two new types of corn and soy crops that rely on heavy applications of some of the most produce-unfriendly pesticides in the world.


Dow AgroSciences is asking the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Animal and Planet Health Inspection to approve its new genetically engineered corn and soy crops, which have been manipulated to live through sprayings of 2,4-D. A weed-killing chemical that's classified as a hormone disruptor by the European Union, 2,4-D has been dubbed a "probable carcinogen" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It was also used as one of the main ingredients in the notoriously harmful defoliant chemical Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War.

Monsanto, the company that introduced the weedkiller Roundup into the food system, is also trying to gain approval for a new genetically engineered soybean that can be doused with dicamba, an old-school pesticide that has been shown to be a developmental toxin.

These toxic chemicals form pesticide vapors that can travel up to a half mile, killing or deforming popular farm and garden vegetables along the way.

Uniting to save the produce section
In an unlikely union, food processors and organic and conventional produce farmers have joined forces to create the Save Our Crops Coalition. The grassroots group of farm interests is petitioning the EPA, calling for an environmental impact statement that would consider the damage of introducing genetically modified (GMO) dicamba and 2,4-D crops to the market.

If approved, the dicamba and 2,4-D corn and soy GMO crops will promote 60- to 80-percent increases in dicamba and 2,4-D sprayings. Weed science experts from Penn State University predict this will create millions of pounds of increased pesticide use.

Of major concern? The applications would also come later in the year, when temperatures and humidity are higher, creating a highly volatile pesticide vapor that can travel as much as a half mile from the application point, killing or deforming crops like tomatoes, potatoes, peas, cucumbers, peppers, grapes, green beans, squash, and melons along the way.

Why do we need new GMOs?
A quick backstory on genetically engineered seeds: Scientists take genetic material from one organism and processes that could never occur in nature to inject the material into another type or organism. In farming, the GE seeds of choice over the past decade have been corn and soy plants designed to live through heavy applications of the weedkiller glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Because farmers have used millions of pounds of the chemical in such a short time, the weeds have become immune to the spray, creating a hard-to-kill, superweed crisis. Now, chemical companies are turning to older pesticides—and higher doses—to create newer GMO crops.

GMO dicamba and 2,4-D crops will allow growers to spray plants later in the season, when not only are humidity and temperatures higher, but also neighboring tomato plants are leafing out, making them most susceptible to the drift. If the chemicals don't outright kill plants like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, and other favorites, they could cause severe twisting and other deformities to occur as the plants in the drift's path grow, rendering the harvest useless.

Devastation expected for specialty crops
Researchers at Ohio State University conducted a study simulating 2,4-D and dicamba drift and volatilization, investigating how an increased use will likely effect tomatoes, a staple not just at farmer's markets, but for food processors, too. Experts found that the migrating pesticide vapors sparked late bloom, which diminishes the marketable red part of the tomato and stimulated growth of unmarketable green growth, which can't be sold. In fact, just tiny amounts—1/300th of what was applied to field crops—caused significant field loss on neighboring tomato farms.

Ohio researchers concluded that realistic drift from corn or soy fields treated with either dicamba or 2,4-D will result in a 17 to 77 percent reduction in marketable fruit for neighboring farms and gardens. The current chemical of choice, glyphosate, does not volatilize and spread through the air the way dicamba and 2,4-D do. However, scientists predict about a 1,000 percent increase in 2,4-D use over the next 5 years, if the GMO crop is approved. And with it will come increased damage from drift.

A Tragedy for Bees
Dicamba and 2,4-D are chemicals that can easily migrate to field border areas, places that harbor habitat critical for wild bee populations that are picking up the slack for declining honeybees. These unplanted, natural field border areas also draw in beneficial bugs that serve as natural biocontrol agents for sustainable farming operations and gardens.

You can help
Continue to grow and support organic to pressure farmers to grow without the use of inadequately tested and dangerous GMOs. Sign Pesticide Action Network's petition urging USDA to reject
GMO 2,4-D corn.

Tags: GMOs