Summary:

  • 2,4-D is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, and is registered for use in more than 70 countries.
  • 2,4-D was one of two herbicide ingredients in Agent Orange. The other ingredient—2,4,5-T—was contaminated with a dioxin. 
  • As with all pesticide usage, licensed pesticide applicators who apply herbicides like 2,4-D on farms are required to follow approved product labels and application procedures regulated  by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state departments of agriculture.
  • 2,4-D is also used as a common household herbicide.

Last week, the U.S Department of Agriculture approved the use of genetically modified corn and soybean seeds that are resistant to the herbicide known as 2,4-D. We'd like to address some of the main questions we hear from consumers about the use of 2,4-D as an agricultural herbicide 

What is 2,4-D?

As Jon Entine, executive director for the Genetic Literacy Project, states in his Forbes article, “According to scientists, it’s an effective herbicide and plant growth regulator widely and safely used for decades in household weed killers, such as Scotts TurfBuilder, and also by farmers.”

He also explains, “The Environmental Protection Agency has evaluated 2,4-D numerous times under increasingly stringent risk assessment evaluations and consistently found the comparatively mild herbicide safe. The Oregon State University and EPA-backed National Pesticide Information Center thoroughly reviewed the chemical and found it safe in its proposed usages.”

This fact sheet from the National Pesticide Information Center provides a brief overview of 2,4-D.

Is 2,4-D the same thing as Agent Orange?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has addressed questions related to 2,4-D and Agent Orange, and an excerpt is below:

“Q. Is 2,4-D the same thing as ‘Agent Orange’ defoliant?

“A.  No. ‘Agent Orange’ was a mixture of herbicides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, kerosene and diesel fuel. Agent Orange contained high levels of dioxin, a contaminant found in 2,4,5-T that causes cancer and other health concerns in people. EPA cancelled all use of 2,4,5-T in 1985 because of these risks. By contrast, EPA has approved the use of 2,4-D and considers it safe when used according to the EPA-approved labeling.”

How do farmers apply herbicides like 2,4-D?

Illinois farmer and blogger Katie Pratt writes about how farmers are trained to use pesticides, including herbicides, according to the approved label on her blog, Rural Route 2. She explains that her husband, who is a farmer, “attends a class and takes a four-hour test every three years to be certified to purchase and apply pesticides on our farm.”

She adds, “If he ever wanted to go into business and apply pesticides for other farmers, he would take an additional test. This regulatory process comes to our farmers through the EPA and is issued and administrated by the state departments of agriculture.”

Katie also points out that homeowners can purchase herbicides, including 2,4-D for residential use without needing any training or regulation.

Agriculture blogger Jenny Dewey Rohrich explains how farmers choose and use pesticides in this post on her blog, the Prairie Californian. Iowa farmer Dave Walton describes the small amounts of pesticides that are applied to agricultural fields in this post on Genetic Literacy Project.

If you have any questions about 2,4-D, herbicides or herbicide-resistant GM crops, we invite you to submit them to GMO Answers.