(Corrects organization in sixth paragraph to Center for Food
Safety from National Resources Defense Council)
By Karl Plume and P.J. Huffstutter
CHICAGO Oct 23 The U.S. Department of
Agriculture on Friday signed off on a new genetically modified
type of corn developed by Monsanto Co after a review
concluded it posed no significant threat to agricultural crops,
other plants or the environment.
The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
(APHIS) announced it would deregulate Monsanto's MON 87411
maize, which was developed to protect plants against corn
rootworms that can damage roots and drag down grain yields and
be tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate.
The so-called trait would be inserted into a line of corn
seeds' genetic code and could be "stacked" with other traits.
Glyphosate, which the World Health Organization has said is
"probably" linked to cancer, is the active weed-killing
ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and other herbicides produced
by farm chemical companies.
The agency's move is a step in the multiyear process of
commercializing genetically engineered seed traits. Other steps
include assessments by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and regulators in
The EPA's review is still ongoing. The agency's scientific
advisory panel has raised red flags on the issue, however, and
criticized weak guidelines in assessing the risks of such
biotechnology, said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at
advocacy group the Center for Food Safety. Among their concerns:
better understanding the impact on pollinators like bees and
Monsanto is planning a full commercial launch of its
SmartStax PRO, a line of products featuring MON 87411 maize, by
the end of the decade pending necessary regulatory approvals,
the company said in a statement.
Separately, APHIS said Friday it was extending the comment
period for a genetically-engineered corn trait developed by
Syngenta Seeds Inc., a unit of Syngenta AG, for 30
Syngenta's genetically engineered MZHG0JG corn is resistant
to glyphosate and glufosinate - an herbicide combination the
company says will expand options for farmers battling the
growing problem of weed resistance, but one that critics say
will fuel the problem.
As of 2014, there were 14 different glyphosate-resistant
weed species and one resistant to glufosinate, according to the
USDA's preliminary findings of the Syngenta petition. The risk
of herbicide-resistant weed development will be ever present
where herbicides are used, the assessment added.
Syngenta could not be immediately reached for comment.
The regulatory moves come amid increased scrutiny of
glyphosate following a report issued in March by the World
Health Organization's International Agency for Research on
Cancer that said it can "probably" cause cancer.
Monsanto and others have challenged the report's findings,
but the controversy continues.
California environmental officials have announced plans to
list the herbicide as cancer-causing, a move Monsanto is trying
to block. The company recently told state regulators that such
actions could be considered illegal because they are not
considering valid scientific evidence.
Monsanto is also facing mounting litigation over the issue
as law firms representing U.S. farm workers have filed lawsuits
against the company, accusing it of knowing of the dangers of
glyphosate for decades.
Monsanto said the claims are without merit.
(Editing by Tom Brown)