USDA to Prepare Impact Statements for Dicamba, 2,4-D Traits

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has  announced plans to prepare two separate environmental impact statements (EIS) to better inform decision-making regarding the regulatory status of crops genetically engineered to be resistant to 2,4-D and dicamba.

These are the first plants genetically engineered to be resistant to these specific herbicides. Dicamba and 2,4-D have been safely and widely used across the country since the 1960s to control weeds on crop and non-crop sites. If approved, these plants would provide farmers the flexibility for new applications of these herbicides, while also offering farmers additional crop planting options.

The dicamba technology is part of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System, which includes Bollgard II Xtend Flex cotton, which is scheduled for market introduction in 2015. The 2,4-D technology is part of the Enlist Weed Control System from Dow AgroSciences, with initial cotton introduction set for 2016.

Both technologies are scheduled for introduction in corn and soybeans over the next two years.

APHIS’ Notices of Intent to prepare these EIS’s will officially be published in the Federal Register, and each notice will be accompanied by a 60-day public comment period.

Comments received to date by APHIS in response to all of the 2,4-D and dicamba documents have been similar in scope, ranging from the importance of making additional herbicide-resistant crops available for producers to focusing on 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.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, APHIS is required to evaluate the potential environmental impacts that could result from a deregulation of new genetically engineered plants by the Agency. With regard to these new herbicide-resistant plants, through its analysis of information submitted by Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, as well as public comments, APHIS has determined that these EIS’s are needed to further assist the Agency in evaluating any potential environmental impacts before making a final determination regarding the products’ regulatory status.

A Monsanto spokesperson noted that the company will work with APHIS to complete this action as soon as possible to ensure that U.S. farmers can gain access to these important new technologies.

“As APHIS completes the EIS, we’ll use this time to continue to advance the development of these next-generation products – including ensuring farmers gain first-hand experience through our Ground Breakers program throughout 2013 and 2014,” said Lisa Safarian, U.S. row crops lead for Monsanto.

“U.S. farmers tell us that they need these critical technologies to help manage tough-to-control weeds on their farms to maximize yield potential and meet the world’s growing demands,” she added. “While unexpected, we’ll use this timing to broaden the development of high-yielding varieties that we’ll ultimately be able to deliver to the farm.”

Likewise, the reaction from Dow AgroSciences was one of cooperation. “Consistent with USDA’s announcement today, we are confident in the value that the Enlist Weed Control System will provide to agriculture,” according to a statement released by Dow. “We will continue to support our customers by working with USDA/APHIS to get the much-needed Enlist technologies approved for commercial use as soon as possible.”

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.

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