USDA clears first drought-tolerant biotech corn

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 - USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will lift its restrictions on a corn variety genetically engineered by Monsanto and BASF to tolerate drought. It expects to publish the deregulation notice in the Federal Register Tuesday.

 Commercial approval of drought-tolerant varieties has long been a goal of the biotech industry and, if it lives up to its promise, be a milestone in crop improvement and food production.

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 In a statement this afternoon, Monsanto said that the drought-tolerant trait “is projected to be introduced as part of an overall system that would offer farmers improved genetics, agronomic practices and the drought trait.” On-farm trials next year will give farmers experience with the product, while generating data to help inform the company's commercial decisions, it said.

 “Our drought system is designed to help farmers mitigate the risk of yield loss when experiencing drought stress, primarily in areas of annual drought stress,” said Hobart Beeghly, U.S. product management lead. “This spring, farmers in the western Great Plains will have an opportunity to see how the system performs on their farm through on-farm trials” with varieties that include its Genuity stacked traits that resist insects and tolerate glyphosate herbicides.

 The new trait is part of collaboration with Germany's BASF that aims to develop crops with higher yields and tolerance to adverse environmental conditions, such as drought. Jonathan Bryant, vice president of business management at BASF Plant Science, said he expected more biotech advances from BASF's yield and stress-tolerant pipeline with Monsanto. Approvals in major corn-importing markets with functioning regulatory systems are being sought.

 APHIS published a plant pest risk assessment (PPRA) and draft environmental assessment (EA) on the MON 87460 corn in the Federal Register last May 11. It drew 258 public comments, many featuring the usual arguments of biotech critics. Based on Monsanto data, the risk assessment and the public comments, APHIS said it “has determined that the product is unlikely to present a plant pest risk and is therefore determining non-regulated status.

 The agency also deregulated the MON 87705 soybean, genetically modified by Monsanto to express a modified fatty acid profile and for tolerance to glyphosate. APHIS published the PPRA and EA on the soybean June 28 and determined that it met standards for deregulation.

 APHIS also prepared assessments of the plant pest and environmental risks of Monsanto request for deregulation of its MON 87769 soybean engineered to produce stearidonic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that helps to prevent a adverse health conditions but which is not typically found in soybean oil, and Dow's petition for deregulation of its DAS-40278-9 corn genetically engineered to tolerate 2,4-D and aryloxyphenoxypropionate (AOPP) acetyl coenzyme A carboxylase (ACCase) inhibitors, also known as “fop” herbicides. The corn variety has been field tested in the major corn growing regions of the continental United States as well as Hawaii, APHIS said.

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