The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service received more than 9,000 comments regarding its Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the deregulation of Dow Agroscience's corn variety and two soybean varieties resistant to 2,4-D. The comment period closed Tuesday.
According to the DEIS, USDA's "preferred alternative" is that all three varieties – commonly the Dow Enlist corn, soybean and E3 soybean – be deregulated. The varieties would be the first to exhibit resistance to 2,4-D.
With the closure of the comment period, APHIS will review all comments submitted before finalizing the DEIS and plant pest risk assessment and then, based on these, make its final regulatory decision on Dow's deregulation request.
The varieties, if approved, would provide new opportunities for farmers who are fighting weed resistance. Dow estimated earlier this year that some 86% 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%, the company said.
But some interest groups have concerns about the new crops. According to the group Save Our Crops, which advocates for preventing herbicide injury to non-tolerant crops, 2,4-D has a history of drift.
The group, however, reached an agreement with Dow in late 2012 that included a change to labels on Enlist system products warning of potential drift near sensitive crops. The agreement resulted in an understanding between the two groups, which SOCC said on Feb. 20 continues to remain in effect.
In contrast, advocacy group Food Democracy Now! continues to oppose the varieties' approval. According to an update from the group, "Dow Chemical is petitioning the USDA to approve a new GMO 'Agent Orange' corn and soy."
The group touts 2,4-D as a "main chemical component of the Vietnam era defoliant linked to birth defects, cancer, and hormone disruption," and provides a form letter for consumers to petition USDA Secretary Vilsack to deny approval of the new varieties.
USDA, however, points out in a January 2014 Frequently Asked Question fact sheet regarding the DEIS, that "'Agent Orange' was a mixture of herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, kerosene and diesel fuel." The sheet goes on to add that the Environmental Protection Agency "considers 2,4-D safe when used according to EPA-approved labeling."
Dow says farmers have come out to support the technology, signing on to their own petitions or letters.
Eight growers representing Indiana, Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio, the company said, submitted a joint letter to USDA urging deregulation.
"Technologies such as Enlist will allow us to continue to provide the safe and abundant food supply that this country and the world ask us to produce," the eight-grower coalition said in their comment. "And to do so using environmentally friendly practices that allow us to continue the conservation practices we value … which protect our vital soil and water resources."
If approved, Dow expects to launch Enlist corn and soybeans in 2015, with cotton to follow.
Also coming down the pike is Dow's Enlist Duo herbicide, a formulation of 2,4-D with Colex D technology that's designed to offer low drift and low volatility. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will open a comment period for Enlist Duo herbicide in the coming weeks, Dow said.