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Intro: "To Jody Herr, it was a telltale sign that one of his tomato fields had been poisoned by 2,4-D, the powerful herbicide that was an ingredient in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant."

Dow is ready to supply farmers with a new chemical herbicide with Agent Orange as an ingredient. (illustration:
Dow is ready to supply farmers with a new chemical herbicide with Agent Orange as an ingredient. (illustration:

A Battle Over Dow Agent Orange Corn

By Andrew Pollack, The New York Times

26 April 12


o Jody Herr, it was a telltale sign that one of his tomato fields had been poisoned by 2,4-D, the powerful herbicide that was an ingredient in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant.

“The leaves had curled and the plants were kind of twisting rather than growing straight,” Mr. Herr said of the 2009 incident on his vegetable farm in Lowell, Ind. He is convinced the chemical, as well as another herbicide called dicamba, had wafted through the air from farms nearly two miles away.

Mr. Herr recalled the incident because he is concerned that the Dow Chemical company is on the verge of winning regulatory approval for corn that is genetically engineered to be immune to 2,4-D, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds without harming the corn stalks.

That would be a welcome development for corn farmers like Brooks Hurst of Tarkio, Mo., who are coping with runaway weeds that can no longer be controlled by Roundup, the herbicide of choice for the last decade.

But some consumer and environmental groups oppose approval of Dow’s corn, saying it will lead to a huge increase in the use of 2,4-D, which they say may cause cancer, hormone disruption and other health problems. They are being joined by a coalition of fruit and vegetable farmers like Mr. Herr and canners like Red Gold and Seneca Foods, which filed petitions with the government last week seeking a delay in the corn’s approval.

The Save Our Crops Coalition, as it calls itself, says it is not opposed to biotechnology. But it fears that fruits and vegetables, which will not be immune to 2,4-D, will become unintended casualties of herbicide drift as the chemical is sprayed on tens of millions of acres of corn.

The dispute is the latest iteration in the intense and often bitter battle over genetically modified crops, made even more emotional in this case because of the connection between 2,4-D and Agent Orange, the notorious defoliant that has been linked to birth defects, cancer and other health problems in Vietnamese civilians and American veterans.

Some opponents of Dow’s product call it “Agent Orange corn.” Dow and its allies call that a misleading scare tactic.

The victims of Agent Orange do not deserve “to have their tragedy exploited in an irresponsible way,” Steve Savage, an agricultural consultant wrote in his blog, Applied Mythology.

Most experts agree that the harm from Agent Orange was caused primarily by its other ingredient, 2,4,5-T, which was taken off the market long ago. By contrast, 2,4-D, first approved in the late 1940s, is considered safe enough for use in many home lawn care products.

The Environmental Protection Agency, after repeated reviews, continues to say that there is not enough evidence to call 2,4-D a human carcinogen. This month, the agency rejected a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council seeking the removal of 2,4-D from the market on health and safety grounds.

The Agriculture Department is leaning toward approval of the 2,4-D-resistant corn, according to its draft environmental assessment. But it is accepting public comments until Friday, and has already received more than 5,000. Opponents say that 267,500 people have signed a petition asking the government to deny Dow’s request.

Dow hopes the approval will come in time for planting next year.

For farmers like Mr. Hurst, the approval couldn’t come too soon. “I think it’s a crisis, and we need something to have a solution to get rid of resistant weeds,” Mr. Hurst said. He said that without new chemical approaches, farmers would have to plow more, increasing soil erosion.

The corn is just the first of a new wave of herbicide-tolerant crops. Dow is also developing soybeans and cotton immune to 2,4-D. Close behind, Monsanto is developing soybeans, cotton and corn that can tolerate dicamba, another old herbicide in the same family as 2,4-D. Bayer, Syngenta and DuPont are developing crops resistant to other herbicides. too.

Of the 20 genetically engineered crops awaiting approval, 13 are intended to be resistant to one or more herbicides.

The activity stems from the huge success, at least initially, of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, which are genetically engineered to tolerate its herbicide Roundup, also sold generically as glyphosate.

Those crops made it so easy for farmers to control weeds by spraying glyphosate that Roundup Ready crops now account for about 90 percent of soybeans and around 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States. And use of glyphosate skyrocketed, at the expense of rival herbicides.

But farmers relied too much on glyphosate, allowing weeds to develop resistance to the chemical. The problem has been worst in the South, where a particularly strong and prolific plant called Palmer amaranth, or pigweed, has overrun cotton fields, forcing many farmers to hire crews to remove weeds by hand.

“It has changed agriculture forever,” said Stanley Culpepper, a weed scientist at the University of Georgia.

Dow says its crops will provide a way to control the glyphosate-resistant weeds using 2,4-D. “The real need here is to diversify our weed management systems,” said Mark Peterson, an agronomist at Dow.

Dow’s crops contain a gene from a soil bacterium that causes them to make a protein that breaks down 2,4-D into other chemicals that are not harmful to plants.

But some critics say the new crops will lead to a manyfold increase in use of 2,4-D and dicamba. Neither is used that much now on corn and soybeans - the two leading crops by acreage - out of fear of harming the crops.

Critics say that weeds will eventually develop resistance to those chemicals as well and that more sustainable methods are needed to control weeds, like planting cover crops and rotating crops.

The new crops “ratchet up dependence on the use of herbicides, which is very much a treadmill,” said David A. Mortensen, a professor of crop and soil sciences at Pennsylvania State University. Scientists in Nebraska have already discovered a small amount of waterhemp - perhaps the most troublesome weed in the Corn Belt - that is resistant to 2,4-D.

But some other scientists say there is little choice but to turn to the new crops and their matching chemicals. Without them, “we’re going to get to a situation where we have no tools at all,” said Greg Kruger, assistant professor of cropping systems at the University of Nebraska.

Dow and its supporters say resistance is not that likely to develop because various herbicide-tolerant crops will be competing, meaning no herbicide will be as dominant as Roundup has been.

Then there is the issue of drift. Droplets of any pesticide can drift onto adjacent farms as the chemical is sprayed. But 2,4-D and dicamba can also vaporize - known as volatilization - days after they are sprayed and then travel in the air for miles.

“This volatilization thing is a situation we’ve never had to face before on a widespread basis,” said Steve Smith, director of agriculture at the tomato canner Red Gold and chairman of the Save Our Crops Coalition.

To the extent they now use 2,4-D and dicamba, corn and soybean farmers usually apply the chemicals before the crops are growing, he said. But with resistant crops, the chemicals will be sprayed later in the growing season, when the hotter weather increases the chance of volatilization.

Dow said it had already addressed the concerns by developing a new formulation of 2,4-D that is far less prone to vaporize or drift. BASF, the German chemical company, is working with Monsanto on a new versions of dicamba to limit drift and volatility.

Older formulations will remain on the market, so farmers may use them, especially if they are cheaper. But Dow says it will require buyers of its genetically engineered seeds to use the new formulation. It also says that older formulations will not have been approved for spraying on corn during certain parts of the growing season.

In a statement last week, Dow criticized the coalition’s attempt to delay approval, saying, “Surely, there is a better way to address concerns than for one group of ag stakeholders to attempt to deny access to tools that are urgently needed by their neighbors.”

Mr. Hurst, the Missouri farmer, said that even the older formulations can be used safely. “My dad sprayed, 2,4-D,” he said. “I’ve sprayed it since I graduated in 1988.”

He said farmers had an incentive to take precautions to prevent drift. “I’ve got to face my neighbors in church on Sunday,” he said. your social media marketing partner


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+8 # MidwestTom 2012-04-26 09:45
I am fascinated by the comment that most of the problems from Agent Orange came from the 245T, which is 245 Tetrachlorobenz ene made by the former Hooker Chimerical company in Niagara Falls NY. I actually worked on the process for Hooker. I have kept track of most of my fellow employees, and none of us have had any physical problems. I went from there to the plastics industry. in both cases as many as 50 % of the applicants for work would quit after a day or two due to the odors. In Vietnam the soldiers had no choice, those with less chemical resistance were exposed and could not quit. There is a definite difference between individuals ability to resist exposure to chemicals,
+31 # Barbara K 2012-04-26 10:32
I've decided to grow a few rows of corn in my own backyard and not to buy any corn from the supermarkets. That is one way to fight back, just don't buy the poisonous stuff.
+6 # John Locke 2012-04-26 17:24
Barbara actually you are right... we should all have a victory garden...Howeve r Then watch the government out law them!
+59 # Mardi Gras 2012-04-26 09:49
Ratcheting up dependence on herbicides is the wrong way to go! Good farming practice relies on planting cover crops and rotating crops.
Farmers who do 'chemical farming' are not showing respect for the earth or for the people they are growing "food" for --nor for neighboring farms.
+55 # HooverBush 2012-04-26 09:55
I wouldn't believe a word that comes from Dow.
They told us in Vietnam that Agent Orange was perfectly safe, and wouldn't harm those of us who handled it, and those of us who lived and fought in the areas that had been sprayed.

So much for the honesty of Dow or any other Large Corporation!!!
+31 # Dion Giles 2012-04-26 10:23
There is also the drift of the genetically mangled corn into crops of proper corn, lowering its market value.
+31 # CINCDEUCE 2012-04-26 10:30
Anyone dumb enough to "mess with" an Agent Orange varient should first note that the VA has determined that it is a presumptive disease for vets who come down with diabetes (like myself) who were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Bob in Beaufort
+35 # bugbuster 2012-04-26 10:43
The only true benefit of chemical and GMO farming accrues to shareholders, not to mankind or to nature.

Big Agrochem is waging a perpetual arms race against Mother Nature. I'd like to see what the late, great odds-maker Jimmy the Greek would have had for us on that one. Essentially zero chance of Mother Nature losing, I would guess.

So it is certain to be one thing after another with endless of uncompensated collateral damage while Big Agrochem tries to second-guess the farming wisdom of the ages.

What an insult to everyone this is.
+27 # David McElroy 2012-04-26 10:59
Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and other biotech companies are spreading their toxic and genocidal wares everywhere, having opened Pandora's Box of evil. Monsanto even sues farmers whose crops have been contaminated by cross-pollinati on, claiming theft of patented genomes. These companies are working to destroy independent family farms and homesteaders, seeking to control the world's food supply. Backyard gardening may soon be targeted. The elite want to force us to eat only what they have concocted in a laboratory to suit their own purposes, even population reduction!
+24 # ithinktoomuch 2012-04-26 11:09
Silly farmers. Why isn't the no-plow method with mulch in widespread use? Mulch is nature's weed-killer, and unlike anything Dow makes, weeds are still effectively killed after using the method for generations on end. Furthermore, mulch increases moisture and decreases temperature on the soil surface, which is actually good for the corn.
+3 # KittatinyHawk 2012-04-26 19:59
Amen...rotating crops, mulching, my hand roto tilling works, these selfish farmers with all their multi million dollar equipment are too lazy to turn the dirt under, disc and cover crop? No wonder we have so much dust land where Earth used to be.
Never saw Indians needing these seeds or chemicals
+23 # paula schramm 2012-04-26 11:12
It's a hoot to see Dow talk about the "urgency" of getting this new Frankenseed variety out on the market. The incredibly successful pushing of round-up ready corn as the saviour of agriculture has created this "urgent" situation, i.e., the development of round-up tolerant weeds. Now as they market their new invention, they are no doubt already at work on their next creation to meet the "urgent" need to fight 2,4-D tolerant super weeds ! They have set in motion their business plan for decades to come . And they're rakin' in the dough.
It's amazing that so many scientists say "we have no other tools" than this treadmill of ever-increasing pesticide use ! What ABOUT crop rotation and planting cover crops ? This builds the soil, adds nutrients and doesn't put harmful pesticides into the ecosystem, and into neighboring farmers' crops. AND it's cheaper than hiring fieldworkers to pick the pigweed (which, ironically is a food crop in India - like spinach, very high in vitamins ).
+13 # theshift33 2012-04-26 11:19
Re David McElroy's comment:

"even population reduction".

And there it is. Thank you David for having the guts to put that foresight out there. The first goal on the Georgia Stones will require culling the masses in various ways while still lining the pockets of corporations, big pharma, food conglomerates and a runaway
medical system.
+22 # Richard Miller 2012-04-26 11:44
I lost my brother in 1976 from Agent Orange and three tours in 'Nam. Thank you DOW and the U S Military.
-25 # T4D 2012-04-26 12:15
The herbicide, 2,4-D is applied in two different carrier fluids, water for small areas, and a mix for aerial spraying. In 1951 we had to have an aerial sprayer close to our house and garden. When my Mother saw her tomato plants withering she got so mad she stripped all the leaves off of every plant. About a week later the tomatoes were back in "business,' and we had a fairly good crop. Herbicides like any other chemical is no more dangerous than the person(s) who use them.
+4 # KittatinyHawk 2012-04-26 20:01
Funny I remember bieds dying, lizards, fish after aerial spraying. My aunt got us out of the area. She covered her plants. Did not water down hill into garden.

Guess you should be glad you all had healthy lives
+18 # DurangoKid 2012-04-26 13:02
The main problem with 2,4-D in Vietnam was a synthesis by-product 2,3,7,8 tetra chloro dibenzo p-dioxin, or dioxin for short. Dioxins are a class of chlorinated hydrocarbons that are among the most toxic chemicals known. They're toxic in parts per billion. There is no known safe level of dioxin exposure. The synthesis problem was solved and dioxin was eliminated from Agent Orange. Or so they claim. More to the point, 3,4-D is not harmless. But all of this misses the point. The problem with industrial agribusiness is monoculture. The traditional techniques of rotating crops, fallow seasons, mechanical cultivation, are not compatible in a low margin economy. Our farming practices have more to do with how money works than how the soil works. We have overshot the carrying capacity of our land and are dependent on petrochemicals to subsidize this abuse of the soil. Agriculture is now the conversion of oil into food. 2,4-D is just a symptom of a much larger problem. We are near or at Hubbert's Peak. In the following decades petroleum based agriculture will cease to be an option. What then? Better we should curb our dependence on oil based food while we still have energy options.
+3 # Texas Aggie 2012-04-26 13:22
+3 # KittatinyHawk 2012-04-26 20:05
Soil will not be able to produce and is not in many places. You cannot rob the nutrients and replace with chemicals...doe snot work. We will then be forced to eat over priced, hydro food that is even more chemicalized. then onto soylent green MMMM Goood.

Most people do not even realize what they are eating. The Scum Corporations always target poor area stores and markets. Wood think that Welfare is hoping to kill off the people and their children...then they will come after us
+14 # sassymom60 2012-04-26 13:20
Agent Orange should NEVER be used on food crops; natural and/or organic crops using mulch are FAR superior, and have the added benefit of actually being HEALTHY for consumers! I'm putting up a 20'x48' greenhouse this summer for yearround growing; also have several plants in the yard already. It's up to us to NOT BUY canned or fresh vegetables - shop at farmers' markets, with local farmers, raise what you can yourself, start a small community co-op, with everyone raising one or two things to "swap" with each other. Learn to CAN - it's not hard, and the knowledge that you and your family aren't eating anything toxic is a wonderful feeling. I've always had a small garden, and lived where fresh, clean produce was available. We had many wonderful times together in the kitchen, me cooking and them prepping - all their friends hung around, too, and were exposed to many foods and dishes they'd never had at home. Food is life, literally - you ARE what you eat!!
+14 # Texas Aggie 2012-04-26 13:21
GMO in itself isn't a problem anymore than an dynamite is a problem. Where the problem comes in is how it is used, nad using it to enable the diffusion of substances designed to be toxic (herbicides) in the environment is most definitely the WRONG way to use it. I'm sorry those who think 2,4 D is innocuous, but anything designed to disrupt cellular metabolism is not innocuous on some level. Even antibiotics that disrupt bacterial cell walls which vertebrates don't have are somewhat toxic to vertebrates. Anything that encourages the introduction of toxic chemicals in the environment is a very BAD idea.

That said, I wonder how much DOW will put on the market if it is required to compensate anyone whose crops are harmed by drift and DOW is responsible for proving that their product wasn't responsible.
+7 # BLBreck 2012-04-26 16:54
But Aggie, It WON'T be required to be responsible! Is anyone from BP being held responsible? Are the companies that are decimating land air and water with fracking being held responsible? No. That's the deal, corporations become "a person" with all the benefits and NONE of the responsibility.
+1 # carolsj 2012-04-30 17:06
Yes, if corps are people, then they should be liable for damage just a person would be. If someone poisoned your well or your farm there would be no doubt they are criminal. Why should a corp be any different? Because they are making money doing it? That is the only requirement for a corporation, to make money. Collateral damage is irrelevant.
+8 # infohiway 2012-04-26 18:18
Bhopal, India. 1984. Just half a million injured, thousands dead and compensation still due. Now DOW's. ZIP!
+1 # KittatinyHawk 2012-04-26 20:20
Chemicals are all people know..they run to stores to but the latest to kill bugs, green their lawns, fertilize or Kill.
This is affecting other animals that have No Say.
Those who are too dumb to read up on the chemicals, the fact there is no safe use.
America has a build up for over 70 our soil is wiped out, most of the food you or animals eat have no value so they must inject phony vitamins in.

Indians never sprayed their plants, they fed us. Most smart people know what to use, how to manage. I know Rodale has been offering help, books for over 60 years to help anyone. But 'Hollywood Ranchers' Beverly Hills Farmers want it now at any cost.

You think it won't affect you but how about the water? Hunters have shown mutated animals from drinking in what was once pristine Public Forests, Land given to Corporations.

Our body build us immunities, we have health problems and the Pharms make money on Chemicals too.

Grow your own, get community projects together, buy locally. Whether Dioxin, Agent Orange...I want to see the promoters eat and drink this crap with their families in front of me...prove it is safe for Humans and Animals. They have not in 30 years I have asked, same with Fracking Water. Nope, you and your family get to be Guinea Pigs. Organic means no chemicals...any one can grow organically.
Hey start this Rumour...GE Food makes you GAY! Cause DNA problems
-2 # Holmes 2012-04-26 20:29
Couple of comments - spray drift is a problem which can be reduced by using the correct equipment in the right conditions. Half the label on the drum refers to that. However one can not always allow for the idiot factor.

The why we use such powerful chemicals. To make any of these chemicals takes about twice the wight applied in crude oil or what ever you are using as a feed stock. So using say as little as 1 kg of product per hectare - 1Lb/a, needs about 2-3 kg of oil. This will not run a tractor for more than 10 - 15 minutes when cultivating. Its energy efficiency. A typical Australian poisonous snake will use as much venom to kill a mouse as it need to kill many thousands, it wants the mouse dead now, and does not want to chase after it. A more certain result for less effort.

Re 2,4-D - see the Canadian Red review re current issue re its toxicity etc. Its a herbicide and kills tomato's, cotton etc real good. Just as using guns, you have to be careful.
+1 # carolsj 2012-04-30 17:13
There is more than the idiot factor here. There is the lazy factor, the cheating factor, the cheap factor, etc. All of which will happen and guarantee the problems we all fear. Better to not give them the poison in the first place.
+2 # bobaka 2012-04-26 23:49
The problem is the whole system. If you concentrate people up with no tools or knowledge, they have to come to the supermarket to eat.Supplying the mass market is one gigantic venture for those who have penned up people in cities as their business and who must supply a steady reliable endless and cheap continuous stream of goods. It is every capitalist's dream to get in on the huge daily flow. Because GMO corn fills the mass need and reduces the costs of production. Every fibre of human need in existence has a monopoly connected to its supply and that monopoly is greedy and ruthless. They induce cancer and increase profits.
+3 # ben1son1 2012-04-27 00:26
Agent-Orange related conditions.

• Chloracne
• Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
• Soft tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
• Hodgkin’s disease
• Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT)
• Multiple myeloma
• Acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy
• Prostate cancer
• Respiratory cancers (cancers of the lung, bronchus, larynx and trachea)
• Type 2 diabetes (also known as Type II diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetes)
• Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Other conditions that might be related

• Hepatobiliary cancers
• Nasal and nasopharyngeal cancer
• Bone cancers
• Breast cancer
• Cancers of the female reproductive system
• Urinary bladder cancer
• Renal cancer
• Testicular cancer
• Leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
• Reproductive effects (abnormal sperm parameters and infertility)
• Parkinson’s disease
• Chronic persistent peripheral neuropathy
• Lipid and lipoprotein disorders
• Gastrointestina l and digestive disease
(other than diabetes mellitus)
• Immune-system disorders
• Circulatory disorders
• Respiratory disorders (other than certain respiratory cancers)
• Skin cancer
• Cognitive and neuropsychiatri c effects
• Gastrointestina l tract tumors
• Brain tumors
• Amyloidosis
+4 # George Baggett 2012-04-27 14:58
I spent 1969 in Vietnam. The way I understand it, dioxins and furans (similar compounds) are unwanted by-products in the manufacture of 2,4-D and a number of related activities. And though the defoliant Agent Orange was most notorious, it was just one of about 100 chemicals used in the war, some of which could be considered a form of chemical warfare as they were directed at killing food crops. Accordingly, Dow will have the potential to create more waste products from increased 2,4-D production, and the impact will be greater than just contaminating fields and nearby food crops. From a corporate point of view, enhancing non-edible corn yield may appear to have appeal, but joining with Monsanto to cause development of mono-crop corn or any other crop is at odds with any benefit that might come from the use of a pesticide resistant species. And, like GM milk, there is actually no great shortage of corn. One would think the vast resources of Dow could be better placed.
0 # MrPed 2012-04-28 08:33
MidwestTom....F YI: 245T is the shorten name for 2,4,5-trichloro phenoxy-acetic acid.
+1 # RICHARDKANEpa 2012-04-29 06:53
How about worrying about corn being genetically laced with self made insecticide Way back in 1991 Mexico complained that it's corn was changed by cross pollination from the wind,

Attn; Barbara; Unless you planted from 20 year old seed the chances are you are planting genetically modified corn.
0 # Sandy 2012-04-29 07:15
We have a corn surplus. This is insanity times 10. There are safe ways to control weeds. Why go down this road if we don't have to? Oh right, profits. Ugh, what a sad little dying world capitalism is creating for us...
-2 # Holmes 2012-04-29 08:27
Not sure what the fuss is re this topic. Weeds have been removed from corn using 2,4-D for some time - since the early '50's. It is still registered for such use in many countries including the USA. However it must be used properly.

Generations of farmers have used this product. The industry,resear ch groups and regulators were all totally surprised when the problems of Agent Orange surfaced.

The scandal of such enhancements of crops to reduce the range of weed control processes is that it allows the use of casual 'slap dash' reactive control of pests, and not an integrated multifaceted ecologically sound systems. Other wise resistance - so called super weeds/ pests occurs and one losses that group of chemicals.

Just as the Greek story re Pandora's box, we now need these tools to feed ourselves. The best efforts of so called organic / natural agriculture will not be able to feed us in the way we have become accustomed. 7 bill and counting.

More public funding for Agricultural R&D not less is needed to get better tools and to maintain good public accountability.

Monsanto did not respond to earlier warnings re the use of GMO crops based on one chemical. Too arrogant.
+1 # RICHARDKANEpa 2012-04-29 09:10
Sandy have you ever seen a bee in a soda can laced with corn syrup with the insecticide genetically implanted in it that crowded out less hearty natural strains of corn, this will end up in our wheat and rice as well
0 # Charlie Peters 2012-04-30 05:23
Federal ethanol policy increases Government motors oil use and Big oil profit.

It is reported that today California is using Brazil sugar cane ethanol at $0.16 per gal increase over using GMO corn fuel ethanol. In this game the cars and trucks get to pay and Big oil profits are the result that may be ready for change.

We do NOT support AB 523 or SB 1396 unless the ethanol mandate is changed to voluntary ethanol in our gas.

Folks that pay more at the pump for less from Cars, trucks, food, water & air need better, it is time.

The car tax of AB 118 Nunez is just a simple Big oil welfare program, AAA questioned the policy and some folks still agree.

AB 523 & SB 1326 are just a short put (waiver) from better results.

GOOGLE: Prop 87 (510) 537-1796

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