WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2014 — While the agricultural industry is grateful for the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of Dow AgroSciences’ dual herbicide known as Enlist Duo, consumer and environmental groups are promising to file legal challenges against the decision, citing health and environmental concerns.
The product is used to control weeds among corn and soybeans genetically-engineered (GE) to tolerate 2,4-D and glyphosate, two of the most widely used herbicides in the world for controlling weeds.
Dow AgroSciences said EPA’s decision is a victory for farmers who have been grappling with hard-to-control and resistant weeds for years. “Tens of millions of acres of American farmland are infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds, and the problem has grown worse every year. In fact, resistant weed infestation doubled between 2009 and 2013,” Dow noted in a press release.
“Knowing that Enlist is approved gives me great comfort,” said Rusty Smith, a farmer from Des Arc, Arkansas, who was quoted by Dow in its release. “We have a very serious Palmer amaranth problem that Enlist will solve. We need tools to address weed resistance problems. Enlist Duo is made for that.”
Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, agreed. He said the “vitality of the agricultural economy depends upon the continued advancements of new technologies of this type.”
The American Soybean Association said it called upon foreign markets where U.S. soybeans are exported to review and approve the new biotech events associated with Enlist Duo so that they can be commercialized here in the United States without jeopardizing export markets.
“Today’s registration of Enlist Duo herbicide means that America’s soybean farmers are a step closer to having access to another integral mode of action with which they can fight yield-robbing weeds,” said ASA President Ray Gaesser. “We now look to our key export partners to approve this trait so that we can realize the full market potential of this product, without fear of jeopardizing our trading relationships with partially approved traits.”
It took almost five years for Dow to get regulatory approval for the herbicide, and for USDA to approve corn and soybean seeds with the Enlist traits. USDA’s approval came a month ago. The company said it will release its 2015 market intentions for Enlist in the coming weeks.
However, consumer groups are upset with EPA’s decision, claiming the commercialization of the product will put people’s health at risk and cause stronger weed resistance to herbicides.
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety, said the group plans to legally challenge EPA’s regulatory approval.
The Center for Food Safety, Food Democracy Now!, Organic Consumers Association, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and Pesticide Action Network North America are some of the groups that petitioned the White House to block approval of the herbicide.
The Environmental Working Group said it is “deeply disappointed” with the EPA, citing a letter that 50 members of Congress wrote to EPA and USDA to reconsider their approval of the 2,4-D-tolerant seeds and Enlist Duo herbicide.
“This continued arms race between chemical companies and superweeds is a threat to sustainable farming and public health,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, EWG’s senior policy analyst. “Giving a chemical company the green light to bring a known harmful weed killer to market for use on millions of acres of crops puts public health and the environment in danger.”
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who also disapproves of EPA’s decision, noted that Enlist Duo is made up of one chemical used in Agent Orange, the defoliant blamed for health problems among Vietnam veterans, and another used in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
“This may kill some weeds in the short term but just imagine the long-term cost to the environment and human health,” she said.
Although opponents often state that Enlist Duo is similar to Agent Orange because it includes 2,4-D, authors of the Biology Fortified website note that 2,4-D is not the part of the chemical that made it so dangerous. Agent Orange was made with two herbicides: 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T.
“The 2,4,5-T was unknowingly contaminated with a dioxin, something that was only later recognized as a significant human safety issue,” Steve Savage, an agricultural scientist, wrote on the Biology Fortified blog. “Yes, 2,4-D was part of Agent Orange, but it wasn’t what made Agent Orange a danger back in the 1960s.”
EPA noted that it has made three separate safety assessments of 2,4-D, in 2005, 2012 and again in 2014, and that each assessment confirmed that the use of the herbicide meets the safety standards for pesticide registration.
“Dozens of other countries including Canada, Mexico, Japan and 26 European Union Members have approved these pesticides for use on numerous crops and residential lawns. Last year, Canada approved the use of Enlist Duo for the same uses that EPA is authorizing,” EPA noted. “The agency’s decision reflects a large body of science and an understanding of the risk of pesticides to human health and the environment.”
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