Deregulation of 2,4-D is the "preferred alternative" for corn and soybean

Jan 17, 2014

New data from November of 2013 indicate that 86 percent of corn, soybean and cotton growers in the South have herbicide-resistant or hard-to-control weeds on their farms. The number of farmers impacted by tough weeds in the Midwest has climbed as well, and now tops 61 percent. To sum it up, growers simply need new tools to address the ever-growing weed problem.

Nearly half (49 percent) of all U.S. farmers said they had “glyphosate-resistant weeds” on their farms in 2012, according to the most recent review from agribusiness market research firm Stratus. That was up from 34 percent of farmers in 2011.

Glyphosate or Roundup is the most frequently used herbicide in the U.S. and was created by Monsanto in the 1970s. But many so-called “super weeds” have become resistant to the popular herbicide, sending Ag scientists to the books for a solution, which may come in the form of the controversial 2, 4-D.

USDA said in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) earlier this month that full deregulation is the “preferred alternative” for Dow AgroSciences’ corn and soybean traits resistant to the herbicide 2, 4-D.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released a draft EIS as part of its review to determine whether to deregulate genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybean plants that are resistant to several herbicides, including 2,4-D.

APHIS is performing an assessment of these GE plants, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a concurrent review of the related herbicides.

“We look forward to USDA finalizing its review and deregulation of the technology so that American farmers can access Enlist corn and soybeans in 2015,” Dow AgroSciences said in a statement.

Dow AgroSciences and university data show that their product Enlist just might be the tool to help address the significant weed control problems.

“The data package that supports the Enlist technology contains the latest state of the science on the trait and chemistry. The products have been reviewed and approved by other regulatory agencies around the world. We will continue to cooperate with the USDA and support Enlist as it advances toward regulatory approvals,” the company said.

But some aren’t so sure that is the solution.

“The problem of these so-called ‘super weeds’— which already plague over 60 million acres and are a huge and costly challenge for farmers across the country—is detailed in a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) policy brief,” a UCS spokesperson shared. “US- DA approval of additional herbicide-tolerant crops would only make the problem worse,” the UCS brief explains.

The problem, according to the UCS, centers around Dow AgroSciences’ plan to use the weed killer 2,4-D and other herbicides.

According to Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist in UCS’ Food and Environment Program and coauthor of the brief, “As many weed scientists have noted, approval of these crops will only exacerbate resistant weed problems, as overuse of the associated herbicides will lead to a new round of resistant weeds. Some will likely become resistant to all of the most effective remaining herbicides. And because there are no new herbicides in the development pipeline, farmers could soon have no good chemical options for weed control. So approval of these crops will only throw fuel on the fire. Fortunately, sustainable answers are available. Growing crops using ecological methods, such as cover crops, longer crop rotations, mulches and judicious tillage and herbicide use can control these weeds and provide high productivity, profit and environmental benefits.”

The APHIS’ DEIS will be available for public review and comment for 45 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

Once APHIS receives a petition for regulatory review of certain GE plants, as it has from Dow AgroSciences, it conducts two required analyses before it makes its regulatory determination on whether or not the newly developed GE plants should be deregulated. First, under the Plant Protection Act (PPA), APHIS determines if the GE plants pose a “plant pest risk” to agricultural crops or other plants or plant products. The PPA defines a “plant pest” as organisms such as insects, bacteria, or fungi that can injure or damage plants or plant products. If the proposed GE plants do not pose a “plant pest risk,” APHIS must then move forward with the deregulation of those GE plant varieties. APHIS’s preliminary plant pest assessment of these three new GE plants finds that they do not pose such a plant pest risk. However, before making its final regulatory decision, APHIS, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), must also evaluate the potential impacts to the environment that may result from its regulatory decision. The NEPA review can take the form of an Environmental Assessment (EA) or, in this case, a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

In 2011 and 2012 APHIS made available for public review and comment Dow’s request for deregulation of these GE plants, as well as the preliminary plant pest risk and EAs it prepared in response to that request. Earlier this year, following its review of public comments received, APHIS announced it was electing to continue its environmental analysis and prepare an EIS to better inform the decision-making process.

The DEIS considers four alternatives: keep all the GE corn and soybean plants under PPA regulation; deregulate the GE corn plant only; deregulate the two GE soybean plants only; or deregulate both the GE corn and soybean plants. Under NEPA, APHIS is required to designate in the DEIS which of these options is its preferred course of action.

Based on APHIS’s PPA regulatory authority and its preliminary finding that the GE corn and soybean plants do not pose a plant pest risk to agricultural crops or other plants in the United States, the option to deregulate all three GE plants is APHIS’s preferred alternative. While ensuring an analysis of the potential environmental impacts of its regulatory decision, NEPA does not provide APHIS with any additional regulatory authority to address potential environmental impacts beyond that provided by the PPA.

Concurrent with the APHIS regulatory process, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting risk assessments to decide upon the approval of the proposed new uses of 2,4-D herbicide. This analysis includes a thorough review of any potential human health and environmental risks associated with the application of 2,4- D to the GE corn and soybean plants, such as additional use of the herbicide and potential off-site movement of 2,4-D to other crops or areas. EPA will make available its proposed regulatory decision in the coming months for public review and comment. After consideration of public comments, EPA will then make its final regulatory decision in coordination with APHIS’s final regulatory decision regarding these plants.

APHIS encourages public input on its DEIS and will host a virtual public meeting to receive comments. APHIS will consider all public comments submitted during the comment period before finalizing the DEIS and plant pest risk assessment and then, based on these, making its final regulatory decision on Dow AgroSciences’ deregulation request.

Dow AgroSciences’ GE corn and soybean plants are the first developed to be resistant to 2,4-D and are intended to provide farmers with new plants to help address the problem of weeds that have developed resistance to other herbicides, according to USDA. A A copy of the DEIS provided to EPA can be reviewed at:!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2013-0042. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor