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Herbicide tolerance delay likely

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is launching two separate environmental impact statements (EIS) for traits that tolerate 2,4-D and dicamba herbicides. This likely will delay planned debuts in 2014 for these technologies.

Dow AgroSciences calls its 2,4-D-tolerant technology for corn and soybeans the Enlist Weed Control System. Monsanto is marketing the dicamba-tolerant system in soybeans under its Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System. Monsanto and BASF are developing separate dicamba formulations for this system.

Dow AgroSciences officials estimate this regulatory action will likely delay farmer access to the Enlist Weed Control System until 2015, pending regulatory approval. Dow initially pegged its Enlist system to debut in corn in 2013 and soybeans in 2015. Earlier this year, it moved back the debut date in corn to 2014.

In the meantime, the company plants to open five technology centers this year dedicated to Enlist and the Enlist 360 learning series in the Midwest and the South. These centers are designed to familiarize farmers, retailers, and seed sellers with the Enlist Weed Control System.

What Monsanto’s Saying

In a statement, Monsanto said it will cooperate with USDA’s APHIS in regard to the EIS. The EIS will likely delay the launch of the Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System past its planned 2014 debut. Monsanto officials say an EIS for sugar beet technology took 15 months to complete. If a similar timeline is followed, this would make the system too late to debut for the 2014 crop year.

In the meantime, Monsanto plans to feature the system through its Ground Breaker program in 2013 and 2014.

The Monsanto Ground Breakers program engages farmers in an additional phase of limited on-farm testing under permit conditions prior to new technology commercialization. Monsanto notes approximately 100 growers in 16 states will have the opportunity to evaluate the Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System on their farms in 2013.

Off-Target Concerns

Both technologies have had off-target movement concerns. Dow AgroSciences says its Enlist system features a new 2,4-D choline formulation that differs from current 2,4-D formulations. It includes Colex-D technology to address the off-target concerns of 2,4-D, say company officials.

BASF and Monsanto officials say its separate dicamba formulations for the Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System are low in volatility and drift potential. BASF’s dicamba herbicide will be called Engenia. Monsanto plans to offer two herbicide components as part of the system. Roundup Ready Xtend will be a glyphosate-dicamba premix, where XtendiMax is a stand-alone.

The Save Our Crops Coalition (SOCC), a group of specialty crop famers and processors, initially had off-target concerns about the Enlist system, but it reached an agreement with Dow AgroSciences and is now a supporter. However, it still has concerns about the dicamba-tolerant technology and has not reached and agreement with BASF and Monsanto. The SOCC asked USDA to complete a comprehensive environmental review of dicamba-tolerant crops before seeds are sold or crops are grown.  

What APHIS is saying

For the 2,4-D resistant plants (one corn and two soybean varieties), APHIS has previously made available for public review and comment petitions by Dow to deregulate the products, along with draft environmental assessments and plant pest risk assessments for two out of the three products.  APHIS received approximately 8,200 comments, including petitions signed by more than 400,000 people in response to these documents.

For the dicamba-resistant plants (one soybean and one cotton variety), APHIS previously made available for public review and comment petitions by Monsanto to deregulate the products. The comment period on the petition for the cotton variety recently closed on April 29, 2013.  APHIS has received more than 500 individual comments and 31,000 form letters regarding these two petitions.   

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), APHIS officials said in a statement that it is required to evaluate the potential environmental impacts from genetically engineered technology like the 2,4-D and dicamba-tolerant technology.

If APHIS finds its potential regulatory decision may significantly affect the quality of the human environment, it must prepare an EIS before making a decision on the proposed federal action.  

APHIS has determined that its regulatory decision may significantly affect the quality of the human environment. That is based on analysis of information submitted by the developers of these herbicide-tolerant technologies and public comments.

As a result, APHIS officials believe it is necessary under NEPA to prepare these two EIS's to further evaluate any potential environmental impacts before making a final determination regarding the products' regulatory status. 

While the EIS's will look more broadly at potential impacts to the environment as a whole, APHIS' regulatory authority is based on The Plant Protection Act. APHIS’s oversight is specific to evaluating the potential for the genetically engineered plants to pose a plant pest risk to crops or other plants.

In preparing the EIS's, APHIS plans to host upcoming public meetings that will be publicized through the Federal Register and the Agency's website. The EIS will include a 60-day public comment period.

For more information on these developments, you can check out these websites.


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