Jan 3 The U.S. Department of Agriculture said
Friday it was leaning towards a long-awaited approval of Dow
AgroSciences' genetically altered "Enlist" corn and soybeans
that have been heavily criticized by groups who say they will
harm the environment.
The Enlist seeds are designed to be used in combination with
a new herbicide developed by Dow that combines the weed-killers
2,4-D, known for its use in the Agent Orange defoliant, and
Dow, a unit of Dow Chemical, says the crops and the
herbicide combination - the "Enlist Weed Control System," will
help combat an explosion of crop-choking weeds around the United
States that have become resistant to glyphosate, the chief
ingredient in the popular Roundup herbicide sold by Dow rival
Dow officials cheered the USDA announcement, which followed
over two years of scrutiny of Enlist by the agency. They said
Enlist corn and soybeans should be on the market by 2015 -
roughly two years after the initial target launch date. Enlist
cotton should follow them at some point in the future, they
"Enlist will be a tool to help address the significant weed
control problems that farmers are facing today," the company
said in a statement.
Critics reacted with alarm on Friday and reiterated warnings
that approval of the new biotech crops will only increase the
use of pesticides and thus increase weed resistance over the
They say there are significant health risks associated with
2,4-D. It was one of the ingredients in Agent Orange, the
Vietnam War defoliant blamed for numerous health problems
suffered by soldiers and Vietnamese civilians during and after
the war. Although the main health effects of Agent Orange were
blamed on the other component of the mixture (2,4,5-T) and
dioxin contamination, critics say 2,4-D has significant health
risks of its own.
The Center for Food Safety, a chief critic of Enlist, said
that 2,4-D and other herbicides of its class have been
independently associated with deadly immune system cancers,
Parkinson's disease, endocrine disruption, and reproductive
"This is among the worst applications of biotechnology,"
said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food
Safety. "They will increase the use of toxic pesticides in
industrial agriculture while providing absolutely no benefit to
Last May the USDA said it was extending its scrutiny of
Enlist after receiving an onslaught of concerns from the public
and biotech critics.
In its decision announced Friday, the USDA said it had
completed a "Draft Environmental Impact Statement" (DEIS) for
Enlist corn, and two types of Enlist soybeans and said its
"preferred" option was approval of all three.
The USDA noted in its statement that its regulatory
authority is limited and it primarily evaluates the risks a new
biotech crop presents to other crops or plants.
The draft EIS will now be available for public review and
USDA said it will hold a "virtual public meeting" to receive
feedback from the public before it makes a final regulatory
USDA's review comes at the same time that the Environmental
Protection Agency is reviewing the safety of Dow's Enlist 2,4-D
herbicide. The EPA is expected to issue its proposed regulatory
decision in the new few months.
As Dow pushes for approval of its new crop/herbicide
combination, Monsanto, in conjunction with BASF, also
is seeking regulatory approval for new genetically altered
soybeans and cotton that resist a new dicamba-based herbicide.