Critics plan to challenge USDA on Dow's 2,4-D-resistant corn

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, January 11, 2012 -A familiar cast of anti-biotech activists is gearing up efforts to thwart approval of a new corn trait that Dow AgroSciences has engineered to withstand the 2,4-D herbicide. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service signaled last month that it leans toward deregulating the variety, but needs to consider public comments into account for a final decision.

The campaign appears to be following patterns the objectors have followed in earlier, unsuccessful attempts to stop commercial introduction of biotech alfalfa, sugar beets and other crops. They will first generate a flood of objections during APHIS's public comment period and then file suit in a federal district court, such as San Francisco, where they think a judge may look at their case more favorably.

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The Center for Food Safety already is trying to raise money to support a lawsuit. Blocking approval of “crops that will be resistant to the toxic, powerful pesticides 2,4-D - the main ingredient in Agent Orange - and Dicamba” and transgenic salmon are the center's top priorities for 2012, Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell said in an appeal to supporters.

The threat of a suit was not unanticipated, says Dow spokeswoman Kenda Resler-Friend. “Given that CFS has filed a legal action of some sort against virtually every crop biotechnology product submitted to U.S. regulatory authorities in recent years, it's hard to imagine their failing to do so in this instance,” she told Agri-Pulse.

“We'll have to wait and see what objections and legal theory CFS decides to pursue in its intended legal action,” she said. “But we're satisfied with the quality and comprehensive scope of the science package supporting our product, and we feel confident in our ability to defend our product successfully . . . to achieve commercialization on schedule.”

The Cornucopia Institute and the Organic Consumers Association, both persistent critics of agricultural biotechnology, are urging followers to weigh in with public comments at APHIS, even though they appear to concede that their tactics offer little hope of changing the outcome.

“Despite receiving nearly 45,000 public comments in opposition to this particular genetically engineered corn variety and only 23 comments in favor, the Obama Administration gave Monsanto the green light” for commercial sales of drought-tolerant corn, Cornucopia said.

Both groups hope to rally opposition by pointing out the Dow corn trait is, in the organic group's characterization, designed to tolerate “the infamous herbicide 2,4-D, an Agent Orange ingredient with documented, uncontested major health problems that include cancer, reproductive problems, neurotoxicity and immunosuppression.”

Dow clearly was prepared to challenge both the implications of a link with Agent Orange and the assertion of public health dangers. Agent Orange contained two herbicides - 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. An impurity in the latter chemical was the focus of health-related controversies and 2,4,5-T was phased out in the U.S. in the mid-1980s. “The product that is being proposed for use is not Agent Orange and was not connected with Agent Orange controversies,” says Dow's statement.

“The herbicide 2,4-D is already used on U.S. crops and has been for the past 60 years,” the company says. “It is one of the most widely used and thoroughly tested herbicides available for use anywhere in the world.”

Dow adds that many of the critics' claims “are derived from highly selective use of a 16-year-old academic summary sheet reporting on laboratory work conducted at doses well beyond any conceivable exposure from authorized use.” It points out that health and safety regulators worldwide “have reviewed the extensive scientific database on 2,4-D and found little concern for adverse effects when the product is used as directed.”

The APHIS risk assessment can be downloaded and read by clicking HERE.



Original story printed in January 11, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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