The federal government on Friday proposed eliminating restrictions on the use of corn and soybean seeds that are genetically engineered to resist a common weed killer, a move welcomed by many farmers but feared by scientists and environmentalists who worry it will encourage growers to use more chemicals. The public has 45 days to comment on the USDA report published Friday as part of the deregulation process.
With weeds that have become immune to Monsanto's Roundup, Dow AgroSciences has developed a new genetically altered "Enlist" corn and soybeans that would allow farmers to use the weed killer throughout the plants' lives.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's plant-inspection agency concluded that the greatest risk from the new seeds developed by Dow AgroSciences was increased use of 2,4-D, which could accelerate the evolution of weeds resistant to it. But, the agency said, resistance could develop anyway because 2,4-D is already the third most-used weed-killer in the nation.
The seeds and new 2,4-D have been approved in Canada but not yet sold there. The company has targeted their release in the U.S. for 2015, pending approval by various federal agencies. In anticipation of that, it has received import approval from seven nations and has applications pending in about six others to allow farmers who use the seeds sold under the Enlist brand to export their crops.
For now, Dow AgroSciences' seeds can only be used in tightly controlled trials.
The Center for Food Safety and the environmental group Earthjustice threatened legal action if restrictions on the seeds are lifted.
"This is among the worst applications of biotechnology," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, told Reuters. "They will increase the use of toxic pesticides in industrial agriculture while providing absolutely no benefit to consumers."
The Center for Food Safety said that 2,4-D and other herbicides of its class have been independently associated with deadly immune system cancers, Parkinson's disease, endocrine disruption and reproductive problems. Critics also point out that 2,4-D was one of the ingredients in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant blamed for numerous health problems suffered by soldiers and Vietnamese civilians during and after the war.
The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a separate review on the impact of expanded use of 2,4-D, although it previously found the herbicide safe. To read more, click HERE.