A couple of weeks ago, when I found myself putting a few thousand miles on a new truck in the upper Midwest, I forgot to take enough music along to cover all that distance. That left no choice but to turn to the AM radio, where there are three options: religious, public and farm. I excluded the pious and the pompous and found myself listening to the farm radio stations. Before long, I found myself really concentrating on the reports because it first sounded like farm states were being invaded by some new group related to all those ISIS and al-Qaida terrorists. tumblepigweed_406x250As I listened more closely, I heard the word “glyphosate.” Then I realized they were talking about an invasion of glyphosate-resistant pigweed. It’s a very big deal. The farm broadcasters were talking 84 million acres being invaded by pigweed, or Amaranthus palmeri, if you prefer the scientific name. These “super” weeds grow like gangbusters, and the problem with weeds, especially big weeds, is they suck the nutrients out of the soil, which harms the corn or beans or whatever else is being grown in that field. “Super” weeds are a big problem now, many say, because they developed a resistance to the glyphosate contained in Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready herbicide. Monsanto, the St. Louis-based company, is also infamous for its genetically based seeds that could grow where Round-Up Ready was used because one Monsanto product (the seeds) had built-in resistance to the other Monsanto product (the herbicide). But over the course of multiple growing seasons, the “super” weeds developed their own resistance, creating the current invasion. In 15 states, however, a counter-offensive is underway against these pigweed invaders. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved for use in those states a new product called Enlist Duo, which is produced by the Dow Chemical Co. It is a herbicide, this one using both glyphosate and 2,4-D. It works like Round-Up Ready does in the sense that it kills even the “super” weeds, while allowing Dow’s GE seeds to grow. (I am actually a little confused on that score as there seemed to be talk that Enlist Duo allows non-Dow plants to grow, too, which would be good, right?) EPA’s permission to use Enlist Duo comes with some strings attached, mostly involving when buffers have to be provided and when spraying cannot occur because it’s too windy. But, for the most part, it sounded like the EPA/Dow counter-attack is well underway. Environmental groups, along with some farmers, are suing EPA in federal court on grounds the issue was not studied enough. GMO opponents are quick to ask what we are going to do once this generation of “super” weeds are struck down, only to be replaced by super, super weeds. But this weed issue has been around as long as agriculture. I know from personal experience. One of my early jobs was “walking beans.” This was in the more pre-herbicide days when weeds would take over bean fields and farmers would hire kids from town to “walk the beans.” This sounds easy, but the job was actually to pull by hand every weed in your row. It was back-breaking work. I am certain that in my second year in the same fields, the weeds became resistant to my pulling them out and required ever more strength to get the job done. This is all kind of background for the press releases that began to roll in from various environmental organizations and the groups that want to shut down GM food production. They were all “spinning” a finding by the International Agency for Research of Cancer (IARC) that rates 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” IARC is a 50-year-old World Health Organization unit for identifying cancer hazards and determining risks. IARC could have gone with the more definitive “probably carcinogenic,” or the less-concerning “probably not carcinogenic” rating, but spokesmen said the group went with the “possible” rating because of inadequate or limited evidence. But press releases were all about how both of the main ingredients of Enlist Duo have been “linked to cancer.” Of course, sunshine is also linked to cancer. And these groups were privately disappointed that IARC did not give 2,4-D a higher rating as a cancer hazard. But that has not happened in the 70 years that 2,4-D has been used to control weeds in agriculture and forestry around the world. And backyard gardeners use it all the time when purchasing products like Weed-B-Gon, Weed Stop, and many others. Close to 100 counties approve the use of 2,4-D when safety instructions are followed. Nor should there be any final word on chemicals like this from the WHO or others that do such reviews. But discrediting genetic engineering by throwing the C-word around without content is not right either. Cotton with edible seeds, golden rice, virus-resistant papaya, and nutrition-enriched cassava are just some of the accomplishments of genetic engineering that have nothing to do with super weeds. Who can say that we are not going to need the work of GE scientists to feed the hungry world of 2050? So let’s put it into context. After 70 years of worldwide use, IARC says 2,4-D is “possibly” carcinogenic. It is used in Enlist Due, a herbicide currently being used in 15 states under strict conditions to kill large weeds. Otherwise, nutrients in the soil will be lost to weeds. The facts are interesting, but reason for panic? I don’t think so.