May 10, 2013 / 5:21 PM / 6 years ago

UPDATE 3-USDA says more review needed for new Monsanto, Dow GMO crops

* Dow's Enlist corn delayed likely until 2015
    * Monsanto, Dow say cooperating with USDA
    * Critics applaud USDA move

    By Carey Gillam
    May 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture said
Friday it will extend its scrutiny of controversial proposed
biotech crops developed by Dow AgroSciences, a unit of
Dow Chemical, and Monsanto Co. after receiving an
onslaught of opposition to the companies' plans.
    The news frustrated Dow officials who had hoped to have
secured regulatory approval and have their new
herbicide-tolerant corn called "Enlist" on the market by 2013 or
2014 at the latest. But 2015 is now likely the best hope for
commercialization, said Dow AgroSciences spokeswoman Kenda
Resler Friend. Farmers need the new technology to better manage
weeds, she said.
    "They (regulators) have had a long time to look at the
information," said Friend. "This is something that farmers are
going to lose from."
     USDA said it will conduct two separate environmental impact
statements "to better inform decision-making" on the approvals
sought by Dow and Monsanto.
    Critics applauded the move. Many have warned that both the
new crops planned by Dow and Monsanto, and the new herbicide use
tied to the crops, will cause a range of problems for farmers
and rural communities.
   "USDA is taking the issue...seriously," said Paul Towers, a
spokesman for the Pesticide Action Network. "We're hoping that a
thorough review... will ultimately result in denials."
    Monsanto issued a statement calling the development
"unexpected," and saying it would cooperate with the government
in the assessment. The company said farmers need its new
technology to maximize crop production.
    Dow AgroSciences is hit the hardest by the USDA decision as
it had hoped to have approval by now, while Monsanto has been
aiming for "the middle of the decade."
    Dow wants to roll out Enlist corn, and then soybeans and
cotton to be used in combination with its new Enlist herbicide
that combines the weed-killers 2,4-D and glyphosate.
    The Enlist crops are genetically altered to tolerate
treatments of the Enlist herbicide mixture. Dow says Enlist will
help combat an explosion of crop-choking weeds around the United
States that have become resistant to glyphosate, which is the
chief ingredient in the popular Roundup herbicide. 
    Likewise, Monsanto, in conjunction with BASF,
want regulatory approval for new genetically altered soybeans
and cotton that resist a new dicamba-based herbicide.
    Both the Enlist system and the dicamba system are seen as
replacements for the combination of Roundup herbicide used on
Roundup-resistant crops that now dominates U.S. agriculture.
    The USDA has received thousands of comments on both of the
new cropping systems that laid out a variety of concerns. In
addition to increasing weed resistance, many farmers fear
increased use of the new herbicides that would come with the new
crops would cause damage to fruits, vegetables and other crops
as dicamba and 2,4-D have been known to travel on the wind far
from the fields where they are sprayed.
    Many also worry that the new biotech crops will contaminate
conventional and organic crops.
    And Dow's Enlist herbicide is also controversial because
2,4-D, or 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, was one of the
ingredients in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant that was
blamed for numerous health problems suffered 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 had threatened to sue the
government if it approved Enlist.
    Center for Food Safety attorney Andrew Kimbrell said he
thought the USDA had little choice but to conduct environmental
impact statements given USDA has lost court challenges to its
approvals for biotech sugarbeets and alfalfa for failing to
conduct such assessments for those crops.
    "I think they were between a rock and a hard place,"
Kimbrell said of USDA. "They were going to be forced to do this
anyway. The rush to judgment here has been halted." 
    Monsanto's dicamba-tolerant cropping system is of particular
concern to farmers, said Steve Smith, chairman of the Save Our
Crops farming interest coalition.
    The group petitioned USDA last month to prepare just such an
EIS because of the concerns about dicamba's potential to drift
and do damage to other crops.
    But Cathleen Enright, executive vice president at the
Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said the USDA's
action sets a "bad precedent for future consideration of safe
and beneficial genetically engineered plant products."
    "The U.S. regulatory system for biotech products remains
unnecessarily burdensome and unpredictable, and American farmers
are paying the price," Enright said.
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