Monsanto Co. (MON) and Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) will get speedier government reviews for some of their newest genetically modified crops under a plan to cut approval times in half, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.
Monsanto soybeans that tolerate applications of the herbicide dicamba and a Dow soybean engineered to tolerate 2,4-D are among a dozen petitions that will get the faster reviews, the USDA said on its website. The agency plans to decide whether to approve the crops in 13 to 16 months after public comment begins, down from a current average of 3 years.
The move to speed biotech approvals comes as seed-makers develop new technologies aimed at slowing the spread of so- called superweeds that are no longer killed by Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Half of the 12 plants designated for faster review by the USDA are herbicide-tolerant crops made by Monsanto, Dow, DuPont Co., Bayer AG (BAYN) and BASF AG.
“Farmers needs technology right now to help them with issues such as weed resistance,” Kenda Resler-Friend, a spokeswoman for Midland, Michigan-based Dow, said today in a telephone interview. “The USDA realizes that the longer farmers have to wait, the longer the weeds are going to get a head start.”
Weeds that resist glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, or that are hard to control surged 25 percent last year to infest 60 million acres, Antonio Galindez, president of Dow AgroSciences, said in a March 7 presentation.
Addressing Concerns Early
The USDA now will take public comment on seed developers’ petitions for deregulation at the start of the review process so concerns can be addressed early, helping to get new technologies on the market sooner, Michael Gregoire, a USDA deputy administrator, said last month. The timing for publication of the first 12 seed-makers’ petitions under the new process isn’t clear, R. Andre Bell, an agency spokesman, said today.
Dow soybeans engineered to tolerate applications of three herbicides, including 2,4-D, fall under the new system, while earlier petitions for approval of soybeans that tolerate 2,4-D and one other herbicide and for 2,4-D-tolerant corn remain under the old paradigm. Dow is counting on at least $1 billion of profit from 2,4-D and crops that tolerate it, known as the Enlist system, as farmers try to control superweeds.
Crops engineered to tolerate 2,4-D have come under attack by activists partly because the chemical is one of the two herbicides comprising Agent Orange. Dow’s Resler-Friend said it was 2,4,5-T, the other chemical in the defoliant used during the Vietnam war, that was a health concern and it hasn’t been produced in 25 years.
Some weed scientists are concerned that older herbicides such as 2,4-D and dicamba can volatilize in summer heat and drift onto neighbors’ fields and gardens.
Monsanto and BASF are developing a version of dicamba with reduced volatility, Daniel Pepitone, a BASF spokesman said today. Dow’s Resler-Friend said its formulation of 2,4-D with choline, which is pending regulatory approval, has “near zero” volatility and a 90 percent reduction in wind-carried drift.
Other petitions to get faster USDA review include a higher yielding soybean from Monsanto, a cold-tolerant eucalyptus tree from ArborGen Inc. (ARBR), a non-browning apple from Okanagan Specialty Fruits and a blight-resistant peanut from Virginia Tech.
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