Cleaning up Agent Orange, and putting it in your corn

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An Agent Orange victim Nguyen Thi Thao, 16 years old, sits at the Friendship Village, a hospice for Agent Orange victims outside Hanoi. Agent Orange is a dioxin-laced defoliant sprayed by US troops in the Vietnam War to destroy crops and jungle cover shielding guerrillas. US dropped about 18 million gallons of the defoliant on southern Vietnam for most of the 1960s. PHOTO: REUTERS

The fact that exposure to Agent Orange is related to the development of prostate cancer in Dr. Garzotto's latest study is no surprise.

The US Air Force's Ranch Hand Study some years ago determined a relationship existed. However, the degree of lethality may be a new step forward, albeit with the caveats as expressed by Dr. Arnold Schecter; the most significant of these is the lack of blood dioxin level in study participants. Nonetheless, the study does confirm trends of earlier studies.

It would appear that even with the acceptance of prostate cancer as a likely consequence of Agent Orange exposure, there is little acceptance by the US that this relationship could very well be in effect for Vietnamese who were exposed to Agent Orange and are now suffering from this disease. To categorize this as blatant hypocrisy by the US would be an understatement.

Some would say that the US is assisting Vietnam with the cleanup of dioxin at Da Nang and fully recognizes its responsibility in contaminating lands in Vietnam. I would say it is a convenient diversion from the real responsibility of directly helping those presently suffering and those who will suffer in the future with maladies resulting from Agent Orange exposure.

Many expatriates have written to Vietweek concurring that despite the problems they face in Vietnam, it is simply not acceptable that people direct their anger and slurs at all Vietnamese. This forum, "Your two cents", opens the floor for you, the expats, to hold forth on the changes you see in Vietnam: what disappoints, what pleases and what you would like to see happen. Email your thoughts to We reserve the right to edit your submissions for reasons of space and clarity.
Certainly assisting Vietnam with dioxin cleanup is commendable; however, the scope of responsibility of the US should not remain isolated to the physical cleanup of the environmental disaster they unquestionably caused.

The lives of countless human beings have been devastated through use of Agent Orange by US military forces. Directly helping those affected would be small compensation to these unfortunates for the torturous lives they have faced suffering from health conditions American Vietnam Veterans are being compensated for in the US when suffering from these very same illnesses.

The development of 2,4-D resistant corn by Dow and Monsanto causes shivers up my spine. History has shown that these chemical companies wantonly contributed to the environmental and human catastrophe which has been unfolding in Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War. Yes, they aren't developing "˜Agent Orange resistant' corn, but the use of one of the components of Agent Orange, 2,4-D, should be enough to cause concern in those who view acceptable and safe food products as not including this chemical spray in any part of production.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said it will conduct two environmental impact statements "to better inform decision-making."  I submit that these "impact statements" will be grossly incomplete and totally incapable of providing "informed decisions." As we have seen with exposure to Agent Orange, the effects can take decades to be realized. If the US had "informed decision makers" prior to use of Agent Orange, perhaps what we are witnessing now in Vietnam could have been avoided.

How will the USDA be able to extrapolate decades into the future what the ultimate effect will be if they approve this corn? The simple answer is "they can't," and corporate pressure will rule the day, quite possible at the expense of the potential health effects of future generations.

By Wayne Dwernychuk (The story can be found in the May 17th issue of our print edition, Vietweek)

*The writer is an Agent Orange specialist and retired senior scientist at Canadian environmental firm Hatfield. The opinions expressed are his own.

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