WASHINGTON, May 10, 2013—USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today announced it will require additional environment reviews on herbicide-resistant crops waiting to be approved for the market.
APHIS announced it will prepare two separate environmental impact statements (EIS) for crops genetically engineered to be resistant to 2,4-D and Dicamba.
The 2,4-D resistant products included in the EIS are Dow AgroSciences’ (Dow) herbicide-resistant corn and soybean of the Enlist™ Weed Control System. The dicamba-resistant products in the EIS are Monsanto’s double herbicide-resistant cotton and herbicide-resistant soybean.
“With regard to these new herbicide-resistant plants…APHIS has determined that its regulatory decisions may significantly affect the quality of the human environment,” according to the USDA announcement. “APHIS therefore believes it necessary under NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] to prepare these two EIS’s to further assist the Agency in evaluating any potential environmental impacts before we make a final determination regarding the products’ regulatory status.”
APHIS’ Notices of Intent to prepare these EIS’s will be published in the Federal Register with a 60-day public comment period.
Leaders in the biotechnology industry questioned the decision to prolong the approval process for the traits. “These petitions have been under review by APHIS for years, and they have already been subjected to multiple delays in the approval system,” said Cathleen Enright, Executive Vice President for Food and Agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry organization (BIO).
“Not only does this decision come at a time when the Agency was looking to streamline its approval process and tighten timeframes, but at a time when American Farmers need new tools to combat weeds and maximize yields – tools and technologies that are available to farmers in other countries,” she added.
USDA announced an initiative to streamline its regulatory approval process last year. In November of 2011, APHIS announced it would begin improving the overall timeline for biotechnology approvals by standardizing its process.
Dow AgroSciences began data submissions for its Enlist traits four years ago. “Since that time, glyphosate-resistant and hard-to-control weeds have spread across our nation’s farmland,” the company stated in response to USDA’s EIS announcement. “Twenty-five states are now affected and the number of new acres infested in 2012 increased by 50 percent over the previous year. These adverse trends will continue without new state-of-the-art solutions like the Enlist Weed Control System.”
According to Dow, the timeline for the availability of the Enlist herbicide-resistant corn will now extend to 2015.
Kip Tom of Tom Farms called the announcement a “disappointment” for producers. “These crop protection products coupled with seed traits that have been proven to be safe are our only currently available tool to stop the yield robbing impact of weed resistance,” Tom said. “Further delay by the USDA and EPA will only harm our ability to do our part helping to feed a growing world safely and affordably.”
During the first public comment period regarding Monsanto’s dicamba-resistant soybean last year, several agricultural groups opposed calls for an EIS.
USDA acknowledged that these products are the first GE plants developed to be resistant to 2,4-D and dicamba herbicides, which have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency “and have been safely and widely used across the country since the 1960’s to control weeds on crop and non-crop sites.”
If approved, the plants would provide farmers the flexibility for new applications of these herbicides, while also offering farmers additional crop planting options, noted USDA.
The USDA announcement today said public comments on the Dow and Monsanto petitions noted the importance of making additional herbicide-resistant crops available for producers, but also included concerns about the potential increased volume of herbicides containing 2,4-D and Dicamba and their movement onto non-target crops in surrounding areas, as well as the potential for the development of herbicide-resistant weeds.