WASHINGTONThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has indicated its support of petitions to deregulate corn and soybean varieties that have been genetically modified to withstand the herbicide, 2, 4-D.
In a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) released on Jan. 3, the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) cited as its "preferred alternative" a determination that would grant Dow AgroSciences LLC the green light to sell the "Enlist" corn and soybean seeds to farmers without APHIS regulation.
The two varieties of soybean and one corn variety would be resistant to 2, 4-Dthe third most common herbicide in the United States behind glyphosate and atrazineas well as other weed killers. According to the Center for Food Safety, up to 85% of corn in the United States is genetically engineered while 91% of soybeans have been genetically modified.
Increasingly over the past several years, farmers have sprayed their fields with glyphosate to kill weeds because crops have been engineered by Monsanto Company to tolerate the herbicide. But such widespread use has made certain weeds resistant to Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide, increasing the cost of weed management and making alternative pesticides more attractive to farmers.
Farmers who use Dow "Enlist" products could apply 2, 4-D to soybeans after the crop starts to grow, saving the soybeans but killing the weeds. APHIS points out that the herbicide normally can only be used on soybean fields 30 days before a farmer plants the crop.
Some commentators have raised concerns that widespread of 2, 4-D could also make some weeds resistant to the herbicide. APHIS countered that farmers could implement various weed management practices to mitigate such resistance.
Others have raised environmental concerns. APHIS said it lacks authority to regulate herbicide use and noted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is examining concerns about potential adverse consequences to the environment from increased use of 2, 4-D.
The herbicide 2, 4-D has been associated with Agent Orange, a warfare tool used during the Vietnam War. But APHIS explains Agent Orange constituted "a mixture of herbicides 2, 4, 5,-T and 2, 4-D, kerosene and diesel fuel." EPA considers 2, 4-D safe when used according to the agency's approved labeling.
If the petitions are granted, Dow AgroSciences' corn and soybean varieties would no longer require permits to be sold or grown in the United States.
APHIS's DEIS contemplates four alternatives: denying the petitions, keeping the corn and soybean plants under APHIS regulation; deregulate corn only; deregulate the soybean plants only; or grant relief to all the crops.
The draft statement will be available for public comment for 45 days from the date it is published in the Federal Register.
"APHIS will then carefully consider all public comments submitted during the comment period before finalizing the DEIS and then making its final decision regarding the regulatory status of these GE plants," the agency explains in a Q&A.
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed its consultation for Enlist E3 soybeans, said Dow AgroSciences, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company.