By Bill Horan: Rockwell City, Iowa
If your friend was drinking too many glasses of Jack and Coke, what would you do? Take away the Coke?
That’s the crazy logic behind the smear campaign against a crop that anti-biotech activists have mislabeled "Agent Orange corn." What they’re really trying to do is ban a safe product that you probably used on your lawn this spring.
These professional protestors would like you to think that farmers are about to cover their corn fields with Agent Orange, the infamous defoliant from the Vietnam War.
The reality is utterly different. Agent Orange won’t touch my crops or your food, now or ever.
Researchers have developed a new variety of biotech corn that carries a natural resistance to a herbicide whose abbreviated name is "2,4-D." It promises to become an increasingly useful tool for crop protection, especially as weeds develop greater resistance to other herbicides, such as glyphosate, also known as Roundup.
Before the rise of Roundup, in fact, 2,4-D was the American farmer’s herbicide of choice. When I was growing up, we used it on our farm. Its comeback brings to mind the familiar adage: everything old is new again.
It remains the most commonly used herbicide in the world—registered in more than 60 countries – controlling unwanted broadleaf weeds around the globe. It’s a key ingredient of the weed and feed that homeowners spread in their yards and recreational gardeners put between their vegetable rows.
It was also one part of the cocktail that went into Agent Orange. But if Agent Orange was a Jack and Coke, then 2,4-D was the Coke. The other major component was the Jack Daniels--it was the ingredient that made Agent Orange a potential threat to human health.
A corn plant that carries a natural resistance to 2,4-D is nothing to fear--but the scaremongering enemies of biotechnology, in their ceaseless campaign of misinformation, have let their anti-scientific political agenda trump the truth. They’ve decided to defame this innovation by dubbing it "Agent Orange corn."
I’ll give them credit for one thing: The term has a nice ring to it. An English professor would note the assonance, which is a fancy literary word for a repeated vowel sound, in this case the "o" in "orange" and "corn."
Yet it’s a piece of propaganda--a catchy phrase whose slickness aims to cover up a lie.
The authentic brand name for corn that resists 2,4-D is Enlist. That’s the moniker its makers have chosen as they await approval from federal regulators to sell it as a commercial product. This permission is almost certain to come soon, but the special-interest groups that battle biotechnology are trying to frighten the public into last-minute hysterics.
So they’ve contrived a phony name that doubles as an epithet.
As a farmer who would welcome a new tool to control weeds, I resent this attack. My job is to grow safe, healthy, and inexpensive food--and a corn that resists 2,4-D would be a valuable addition to any farmer’s toolbox of options.
It’s bad enough that the ideological foes of biotechnology want to ban a helpful variety of corn. Yet my irritation with them runs much deeper. As a Marine veteran who served in Vietnam, I loathe this reckless tactic of slurring Enlist as "Agent Orange corn."
The Vietnam War was a difficult moment for the United States. More than 50,000 Americans died in a cause that split our country at the time and remains contentious today. Were you for the war or against it? Did you fight in it or dodge the draft? Whenever the Vietnam War comes up in conversation, we risk opening old wounds.
Yet the enemies of agricultural progress have adopted a plan to try to manipulate our emotions by raising the specter of a controversial chemical that is a part of our past and will have no place in our future.
This isn’t a well-meaning attempt to educate the public or debate in good faith. It’s the deliberate strategy of scoundrels.
Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa. He served in the US Marine Corp in Vietnam. Bill volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org