FDA Approves Agent-Orange Friendly Foods. Will EPA Block 2,4-D?
October 2, 2014
Andrew Pollack / The New York Times
The Agriculture Department has approved the commercial planting of corn and soybeans genetically engineered to survive being sprayed by the herbicide known as 2,4-D, according to documents it posted on a federal regulatory website. Corn and soybean growers say new chemicals are needed to fight rapidly spreading weeds that can no longer be killed by the herbicide, Roundup. But spraying 2,4-D would be more damaging to the environment, nearby non-engineered crops and human health.
Altered to Withstand Herbicide,
Corn and Soybeans Gain Approval
Andrew Pollack / The New York Times
(September 17, 2014) -- The Agriculture Department has approved the commercial planting of corn and soybeans genetically engineered to survive being sprayed by the herbicide known as 2,4-D, according to documents it posted on a federal regulatory website on Wednesday.
Some corn and soybean growers have been pushing for approval, saying the new crops would give them a sorely needed new tool to fight rapidly spreading weeds that can no longer be killed by Roundup, known generically as glyphosate, the usual herbicide of choice.
But critics say that cultivation of the crops, which were developed by Dow AgroSciences, will mean a sharp increase in the spraying of 2,4-D, a chemical they say would be more damaging to the environment, nearby non-engineered crops and possibly human health, than Roundup.
"With this approval comes millions of more pounds of toxic herbicides dumped onto our land; it's an unacceptable outcome," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, a Washington advocacy group, said in a statement.
He hinted that the organization might file a lawsuit to try to reverse the decision, as it has done with other rulings related to genetically engineered crops.
The Environmental Protection Agency must still approve a new formulation of 2,4-D that is supposed to be used with the crops.
Dow AgroSciences, a division of Dow Chemical, has said it expects to have all approvals in time to begin selling what it calls the Enlist weed control system for planting next year.
The Agriculture Department, in its environmental analysis, predicted that approval of the crops would lead to a 200 percent to 600 percent increase in the use of 2,4-D nationally by 2020. But it said analysis of the effects of that increased use was the responsibility of the E.P.A. The Agriculture Department said its approval depended mainly on whether the crops would harm other plants.
The chemical 2,4-D was one component of Agent Orange, a defoliant used in the Vietnam War that has been linked to various health problems. But experts say the health effects were caused mainly by another ingredient in Agent Orange.
The E.P.A. has declined to remove 2,4-D from the market on health and safety grounds. The chemical is the nation's third most widely used herbicide behind glyphosate and atrazine, and it also is used in many home lawn care products, according to the Agriculture Department.
Crops resistant to glyphosate, known as Roundup Ready crops, now account for the vast majority of corn and soybeans grown in the United States. That is because they make it easy for farmers to control weeds. Farmers simply spray glyphosate on their fields, killing the weeds while leaving the genetically engineered crops intact.
But it was so easy that farmers ended up relying too heavily on glyphosate, allowing many types of weeds to develop resistance. Weeds that can no longer easily be killed by glyphosate now infest about 70 million acres of American farmland, double the area in 2009, according to Dow.
Farmers have had to resort to using different chemicals, or higher doses of glyphosate, or to tilling their fields, which can increase soil erosion. Some farmers have had to go back to pulling weeds by hand.
The new crops, which would also be resistant to glyphosate, would be a solution. Farmers could spray a mixture of 2,4-D and glyphosate, which would kill even the weeds that no longer succumb to glyphosate alone.
"We've used the latest science and technology to address problem weeds," Tim Hassinger, president of Dow AgroSciences, said in a statement Wednesday. "Enlist will be a very effective solution and we're pleased to have this technology one step closer to the farm gate."
Monsanto, which developed the Roundup Ready crops, is now awaiting approval of crops resistant to a different herbicide called dicamba. But critics say it will not be too long before weeds develop resistance to 2,4-D as well as dicamba.
Both 2,4-D and dicamba have a tendency to drift or evaporate, allowing them to spread to nearby farms where they could harm crops not engineered to be resistant to the chemicals.
A group of fruit and vegetable growers and canners in the Midwest, calling itself the Save Our Crops Coalition, had initially opposed approval of Dow's corn and soybeans.
But the group changed its stance after Dow promised to take certain steps to reduce the risk of drift. Farmers growing the corn and soybeans will have to promise to use the new herbicide that the E.P.A. is now evaluating. The product, called Enlist Duo, is a mix of glyphosate and a new formulation of 2,4-D meant to minimize drift and volatilization.
Farmers will also have to agree to certain other restrictions on how and when the chemical can be sprayed.
Dow had initially hoped to get its corn on the market by 2013. But the Agriculture Department decided to write full environmental impact statements, rather than less comprehensive environmental assessments, delaying the approval.
The agency received more than 10,000 submissions on its draft environmental impact statements during the 60-day public comment period, which ended in March. More recently, it said, it received petitions with more than 240,000 signatures opposing approval.
A version of this article appears in print on September 18, 2014, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: Altered to Withstand Herbicide, Corn and Soybeans Gain Approval.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.