Spotlight on spray drift

September 2016

Photo Creative Commons
While agri-businesses see GMOs as central to their future, the brand-oriented and customer-sensitive ends of the food supply chain do not. Indeed, 79% of Americans voice concerns about GM foods.

Although 51% of Americans express concerns over the number of chemicals and pesticides in their food, all current GM crops are designed to generate or accumulate pesticides, and are firmly embedded in the high-chemical-input monoculture model of agriculture.

The scale of the pesticide problem is vast. It has been estimated that less than 0.1% of pesticides applied to crops reach their targets. And it's not just in agriculture: millions of pounds of pesticide are used in American residential areas, businesses and golf courses. US state and federal regulators are overwhelmed by the volume of pesticides flowing continuously across the nation's highways.

Worldwide, living organisms (including humans and unborn babies) are inevitably exposed to several classes of pesticide, all of which may be toxic or gene-damaging. These toxins are in food, soil, water, and air.

Besides their sheer quantity, combinations of pesticides may interact with each other resulting in increased harm.

Unfortunately, after years of ever-increasing pest-resistance, promoted especially by GM crops, combinations of pesticides are where agri-businesses and their GMOs are heading.

The latest GM crops on the market are Monsanto's 'Xtend', which is stacked with artificial genes for resistance to glyphosate and Dicamba herbicide, and Dow's 'Enlist' stacked with glyphosate and 2,4-D herbicide resistance. These new GM crops won't give the farmer 'choice' in crop management nor will they reduce glyphosate or total herbicide use. This is because neither Dicamba nor 2,4-D is a broad-spectrum herbicide, meaning they'll have to be sprayed together with glyphosate.

Although in the last six years the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved over 100 different pesticides which become more toxic when combined, questions on the safety to humans from multiple chemical exposures have barely been addressed. Indeed, the few studies available on effects of glyphosate together with other pesticides reported increased toxic effects in most cases.

A recently published and timely study by Argentinian scientists on environmental effects of glyphosate and Dicamba combined indicated the possibility of significant harm to amphibian species, such as frogs. Amphibia are recognised indicators for environmental monitoring due to their aquatic habitat, sensitive skin and unprotected eggs. The scientists found lethal effects on a common Argentinian frog species after brief (96 hours) exposure to herbicides at concentrations thousands of times lower than application levels for both glyphosate and Dicamba. The toxic effects were even greater when the animals were exposed to both herbicides together.

Even more worrying, since the results could translate into similar human harm as well as environmental problems, both herbicides caused significant genetic damage in circulating blood cells, and in this case too the two chemicals together were even more harmful.

If the biotech industry has noticed the exponential potential for harm from its multi-herbicide-resistant GM crops, it isn't letting on, and it's got farmers firmly where it wants them.

US rice farmers in some areas have been suffering in recent years because their crops are planted in a sea of GM crops tolerant to glyphosate. If the herbicide spray drift doesn't kill the rice outright it still results in a poor yield or defective quality grain. Farmers have already reduced or eliminated their rice acreage.

Old-style GM soya growers have nothing to fear from glyphosate spray drift. However, their neighbours may be planting Monsanto's Extend. The new GM crop is attractive because it's been bred for high yield, and is already on the market despite absence of regulatory approval for the use of Dicamba on it. Given the widespread visible damage to old-syle GM soya crops in some areas, it seems their neighbours may already be growing Extend and illicitly applying Dicamba formulations marketed for other purposes.

The problem with Dicamba is that it's very volatile and easily drifts over long distances, killing plant life as it goes.

Monsanto's answer is a high-tech Dicamba formulated with "VaporGrip" to lower volatility. However, because the original Dicamba herbicide formulation is less expensive, growers will have a financial reason to continue to use the older volatile version anyway.

The bottom line for farmers is that their only protection against spray drift will be to plant Dicamba-resistant crops and pay Monsanto's royalties, whether consumers want their GM produce with its multiple herbicide load or not.


Has anyone tested VaporGrip, or VaporGrip plus Dicamba, or VapourGrip plus glyphosate, or VapourGrip plus Dicamba plus glyphosate for safety? History suggests not. Tell the European Commission NOT to approve Extend GM crops until comprehensive safety tests have been carried out on humans and wildlife and give assurance of no harm. 

  • Pam Smith, More Herbicide Heartburn. Dicamba Injury Reports Mount, Data Transmission Network The Progressive Farmer, 14.07.16
  • Mike Wagner, Glyphosate drift to rice a problem for all of us, Delta Farm Press, 12.05.11
  • Sonia Soloneski, et al., 2016, Genotoxic effect of a binary mixture of dicamba-and glyphosate-based commercial herbicide formulations on Rhinella arenarum (Hensel, 1867) (Anura, Bufonidae) late-stage larvae, Environmental Science of Pollution Research, 01.06.16
  • Jonathan Latham, Monsanto's Worst Fear May Be Coming True, Independent Science News, 18.05.15
  • Dr Mercola, Pesticide Poisoning Ignores Laws and Avoids Liabilities, 10.08.16
  • Dan Charles, How Monsanto and scofflaw farmers hurt soybeans in Arkansas, NPR, 1.08.16

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