USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has announced plans to prepare two environmental impact statements (EIS) on 2,4-D- and dicamba-resistant crops.

The crops, which include Dow AgroSciences’ 2,4-D-tolerant corn and soybeans and Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton, are expected on the market within a few years.

In 2012, the Save Our Crops Coalition petitioned USDA to prepare an EIS to consider the environmental impacts of dicamba-tolerant crops, especially in regard to drift near specialty crops.

In a statement announcing the EIS, APHIS noted that both herbicides “have been safely and widely used across the country since the 1960s to control weeds on crop and non-crop sites. If approved, the genetically engineered technology would provide farmers the flexibility for new applications of these herbicides, while also offering farmers additional crop planting options.”

Monsanto said it will cooperate with APHIS “as it prepares an EIS on the company’s next-generation dicamba weed management technologies: Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean and Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton technologies.”

The company said it will work with APHIS “to complete this action as soon as possible to ensure that U.S. soybean and cotton farmers can gain access to these important new technologies.

“U.S. farmers tell us they need these critical technologies to help manage tough-to-control weeds on their farms to maximize yield potential and meet the world’s growing demands,” said Lisa Safarian, U.S. row crops lead for Monsanto.

Unexpected development

“While unexpected, we’ll use this timing to broaden the development of high-yielding varieties that we’ll ultimately be able to deliver to the farm.”

Dow AgroSciences also quickly responded to the APHIS announcement. “We will continue to support our customers by working with USDA/APHIS to get the much-needed Enlist technologies approved for commercial use as soon as possible.”

The crop traits “would provide farmers the flexibility for new applications of these herbicides, while also offering farmers additional crop planting options.

“Four years ago, Dow AgroSciences began submissions of a robust and thorough data package to support the Enlist traits. Since that time, glyphosate-resistant and hard-to-control weeds have spread across our nation’s farmland.

“Twenty-five states are now affected and the number of new acres infested in 2012 increased by 50 percent over the previous year. These adverse trends will continue without new state-of-the-art solutions like the Enlist Weed Control System.”

Save Our Crops Coalition said it was “pleased that USDA has now chosen to undertake a comprehensive review of these crops. (We) hope that this process will better inform the decision-makers at USDA and EPA about the vastly increased potential for non-target plant damage impacts caused by dicamba spray drift and volatilization.”

The SOCC statement also said that dicamba, “because of its potential to drift and volatilize, has proven to be one of America’s most dangerous herbicides for non-target plant damage.

Non-target plant damage associated with herbicide spray drift and volatilization is a major concern for specialty crop growers and processors, and credible estimates project dramatic increases in the amount of dicamba to be applied upon the introduction of dicamba tolerant crops.”

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, APHIS is required to evaluate the potential environmental impacts that could result from a deregulation of new GE plants.

If APHIS finds its potential regulatory decision may significantly affect the quality of the human environment, the agency must prepare an EIS before making a decision on the proposed federal action.

In preparing the EIS’s, APHIS plans to host upcoming public meetings that will be publicized through the Federal Register and the agency’s Web site.

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