The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) is deeply dismayed and shocked that the GMO decision-making body has given the green light for the importation of Dow Chemical’s highly controversial 2,4-D tolerant GM maize (variety DAS 40278-9) into South Africa, where it will be used as food.

The variety has yet to be approved in the US, where it continues to face vociferous opposition by civil society groups. 2,4-D was one of two active ingredients in the infamous chemical weapon, ‘Agent Orange’, used to devastating effect during the Vietnam war. Exposure to 2,4-D has been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells. Epidemiologists from the National Cancer Institute in the USA regard this link as the strongest association yet found between a pesticide and a disease.

Dozens of human and animal studies have shown 2,4-D to cause birth defects, neurological damage, and interference with reproductive function. The use of 2,4-D in Sweden, Norway and Denmark is banned because of these well publicised links. The environmental risks of 2,4-D are no less acute, and will increase manifold with the introduction of 2,4-D tolerant maize; the use of 2,4-D in maize farming is expected to increase 30 fold with the cultivation of this new variety. Total use in US agriculture is expected to nearly quadruple, from 12,000 tons to 45,000 tons.

Two surveys of US state pesticide regulators have already established that 2,4-D drift is responsible for more episodes of crop injury than any other pesticide. The impact of 2,4-D on the animal kingdom has been felt by species as diverse as fish, amphibians and reptiles.

According to Gareth Jones of the ACB, “DAS 40278-9 is being presented as a lifeline for maize farmers in the United States, who are battling an epidemic of glyphosate tolerant (GT) ‘super-weeds’ that have developed in response to the introduction of glyphosate tolerant (Roundup-Ready) crops. However, the massive increase in 2,4-D use that will accompany this is highly likely to result in the emergence of weeds resistant to multiple herbicides.”

“In this case though, unlike in the USA, South Africans would be eating this chemically tainted and toxic maize directly. The potential impact of this upon public health does not bear thinking about. GM crops have long been held as the cure to wean industrial agriculture from its dependence on fossil fuels and toxic agro-chemicals. Decisions such as this merely serve to confirm that these promises are nothing but a placebo, and that for the agro-chemical giants and our government- it is very much business as usual” said Mariam Mayet, ACB director.