The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service released last week its Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS, as part of its review to determine whether to deregulate genetically engineered corn and soybean plants that are resistant to several herbicides, including 2,4-D.

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

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.
  • Deregulate both the GE corn and soybean plants. 

Based on APHIS’s regulatory authority under the National Environmental Policy Act, its preliminary finding is that the GE corn and soybean plants do not pose a plant pest risk to agricultural crops or other plants in the United States and 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.

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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, 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. 

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However, before making its final regulatory decision, APHIS, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, 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 or, in this case, a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement.

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 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.