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Stressful growing conditions in the U.S. and high demand has pushed corn futures up by more than 30 per cent.

Stock photo | Thinkstock

Now that overuse has rendered Roundup, the powerful agricultural herbicide sprayed on genetically modified crops like corn and soy beans, useless against new strains of superweeds, a US chemical company is hoping to market one of the active ingredients in Agent Orange in its place.

Dow AgroSciences has submitted for U.S. regulatory approval a new strain of corn that's genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D, The New York Times reported. The chemical was one of the active ingredients in Agent Orange, the militarized defoliant cocktail that was used to on Vietnamese jungles during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange cause widespread cancers and deformation in people who were exposed to it.

According to the Times, however, "Most experts agree that the harm from Agent Orange was caused primarily by its other ingredient, 2,4,5-T, which was taken off the market long ago. By contrast, 2,4-D, first approved in the late 1940s, is considered safe enough for use in many home lawn care products."

Story continues below advertisement

Yet Dow's new genetically engineered corn is nonetheless drawing plenty of resistance, and not just from the usual anti-GMO sources; one of the most vocal opposition groups, called Save Our Crops Coalition, is composed of other farmers and vegetable processors who say that have no problem at all with GMO crops. They're worried that drifting 2,4-D spray will hurt other crops that haven't been engineered to resist it but are planted in adjacent fields.

For its part, Dow AgroSciences said in a release that it's already addressed the problem of chemical drift, with a new 2,4-D formulation that reduces drift by 90 per cent, according to the company's data.

The company added that its new 2,4-D-resistant corn is needed urgently. "The weed resistance problems currently infesting US farms are rapidly getting worse, and growers need new technology now to maintain productivity," the company said in it's press release. "Within the past year, the number of weed-resistant farm acres in the U.S has increased by about 25 per cent."

(The prospect of physically pulling weeds instead of spraying crops wholesale doesn't get a mention.)

Either way, farmers had better get used to a growing list of herbicides being used around them. According to the Times, there's an arms race in the herbicide business: Once one chemical (as well as the seeds that are genetically modified to resist it) loses its ability to kill weeds, the companies debut a stronger one. "The corn is just the first of a new wave of herbicide-tolerant crops," the Times reported. "Dow is also developing soybeans and cotton immune to 2,4-D. Close behind, Monsanto is developing soybeans, cotton and corn that can tolerate dicamba, another old herbicide in the same family as 2,4-D. Bayer, Syngenta and DuPont are developing crops resistant to other herbicides. too.

Of the 20 genetically engineered crops awaiting approval, 13 are intended to be resistant to one or more herbicides."

Do you worry about the overuse of herbicides on food crops?

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