Farmers in the United States could soon have access to corn and soybean seeds genetically engineered to resist the herbicide 2,4-D, thanks to a USDA draft environmental impact statement released Friday.
The statement, released by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, opens the door for potential deregulation and commercial development of the seeds, marketed by Dow AgroSciences as the Enlist Weed Control System.
Currently, the seeds, which have been under USDA review for several years, can only be used in tightly controlled field trials. USDA on Friday recommended full deregulation of corn and soybean traits.
Starting on Jan. 10, the public will have 45 days to comment on the USDA proposal. Dow AgroSciences is inviting farmers to present feedback on the Enlist corn and soybean traits by going to enlist.com or by following the Twitter handle @EnlistOnline.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency, which is conducting its own review of 2,4-D, will release its report in the coming months.
In a statement, Dow noted that the vast majority corn, soybean and cotton farmers in the south (86%) are impacted by weeds that either resist herbicide or are hard to control. It pegged the percentage of Midwest farmers suffering from the same plight at more than 61%.
Environmental groups registered quick opposition to the USDA proposal. Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of The Center for Food Safety, said in a release that the rules, if finalized, would launch agriculture into "a new era of vastly increased dependence on more toxic pesticides."
Today’s announcement came as something of a surprise given that last May, USDA announced that it would require a more stringent environmental review of Enlist crops waiting for market approval.
If advanced, the proposal would give farmers a new version of seeds that can resist herbicides and provide another weapon in fighting glyphosate resistance. The popular herbicide is already the third most widely used weed killer.
Cultivation of Dow’s 2,4-D resistant corn and soybean traits was permitted by Canadian regulators last fall.