October 16, 2014 |
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EPA Approves New Herbicide for Dow Biotech Corn and Soy

Critics are concerned about its impact on the environment and human health

EPA Approves New Herbicide for Dow Biotech Corn and Soy

The Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday approved a new Dow AgroSciences herbicide, allowing the sale of the controversial technology that has come under fire from critics concerned about its impact on the environment and human health.

The approval of Dow's Enlist Duo weed killer, designed to be used with the company's corn and soybean seeds sanctioned by the Agriculture Department in September, came with what the EPA called "first-time ever restrictions" to help battle the problem of weed resistance. The approval Wednesday allows the herbicide to be used in six states, including Iowa and Illinois. The agency is collecting comments on whether to approve Enlist Duo in 10 other states.

In a statement, the EPA said its decision was made using a large body of science and took into account "highly conservative and protective assumptions" in evaluating the risks of the pesticides to people and the environment.

"The agency evaluated the risks to all age groups, from infants to the elderly, and took into account exposures through food, water, pesticide drift, and as a result of use around homes," the EPA said. "The decision meets the rigorous Food Quality Protection Act standard of 'reasonable certainty of no harm' to human health."

Dow AgroSciences' seeds are genetically engineered to resist several herbicides including one known as 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange used by the U.S. military during Vietnam, and glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. The 2,4-D is now used on other crops, including wheat, and on pastures and home lawns. It is the world's most popular herbicide and the third most popular in the United States, behind atrazine and glyphosate.

Critics say the new seed and herbicide combination could lead to environmental and health problems and even more weed resistance. One group warned it might sue to stop the rollout of the new weed killer.

"EPA has turned its back on those it purports to protect a€Â" the American people and our environment," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. "In the wake of our government's abdication of its responsibilities, Center for Food Safety will pursue all available legal options to stop the commercialization of these dangerous crops."

In approving Enlist Duo, the EPA said it will require Dow to monitor for weeds that are becoming resistant to the herbicide and report any they find to the agency. In addition, the EPA is ordering a 30-foot "no spray" buffer zone around the application area to avoid pesticide drift, and banning the use of the herbicide when wind speeds are more than 15 miles per hour. Dow AgroSciences says it has made changes to make the herbicide more likely to stick to the plant

Dow AgroSciences has been working for more than a decade on its "Enlist Weed Control System" -- a package that would allow the application of its Enlist Duo herbicide on its corn and soybean seeds, killing pesky weeds but saving the plants.

The technology not only represents a lucrative market opportunity -- which Dow estimates could be worth about $1 billion during the life of the product -- but it gives farmers more choices to grow their crops without the weed problems that increasingly are dogging those who depend on Monsanto's Roundup and other glyphosate sprays. Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto both have operations in Iowa, the country's largest corn and second-biggest soybean grower.

Larry Sailer, who farms near Iowa Falls, said he would consider using Enlist on his 400 acres of corn and soybeans.

"It's a huge deal simply because it gives us more tools to use," said Sailer, who touted the importance of rotating herbicides in order to prevent weed resistance from developing. "I try to keep my mind wide open. You have to look at all possibilities."

Dow AgroSciences said it expects to have corn and soybeans on the market for the 2015 growing season. The company, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, called the approval "a true victory for farmers" who have been struggling with hard-to-control and resistant weeds.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story

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Contact Christopher Doering at cdoering@gannett.com; Twitter: @cdoering

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