Monsanto, Dow Crops Face Delays as U.S. Boosts Scrutiny

Monsanto Co. and Dow Chemical Co. face delays in selling crops engineered to survive older weedkillers after the the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced increased scrutiny of the genetically modified plants.

Monsanto crops that tolerate applications of dicamba and Dow crops that tolerate 2,4-D will be evaluated in separate environmental impact statements, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said today in a statement on its website. The crops were previously being evaluated through environmental assessments, which is a shorter review.

The new plants are supposed to augment Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, engineered to tolerate glyphosate, a weedkiller sold as Roundup. An increasing swath of farmland is infested with weeds that are no longer killed by the herbicide. The longer USDA review will delay introduction of 2,4-D tolerant corn, marketed under under the Enlist brand, by one year to 2015, said Garry Hamlin, a Dow spokesman.

“Glyphosate-resistant and hard-to-control weeds have spread” to 25 states in the four years since Dow began the approval process, the Midland, Michigan-based company said in a statement today. “These adverse trends will continue without new state-of-the-art solutions like the Enlist weed control system.”

Testing Program

Monsanto will use the longer review time to improve its dicamba-tolerant corn and cotton by letting some farmers use the crops in its Ground Breakers program in 2013 and 2014, the St. Louis-based company said in a statement. Monsanto, the largest seed company, created dicamba-tolerant crops with BASF SE.

The timing of commercial introductions, which had been anticipated for 2014 or 2015, depends on the regulatory process, said Kelli Powers, a Monsanto spokeswoman. The USDA took 15 months to complete the environmental impact statement on Roundup Ready sugarbeets, she said.

Dow fell 1.3 percent to $34.46 at the close in New York. Monsanto gained 0.6 percent to $108.12.

The number of new acres infested with Roundup resistant weeds increased 50 percent last year, Dow said. The expanded review for two types of 2,4-D tolerant soybeans shouldn’t delay the anticipated start of sales in 2015, Hamlin said.

Dicamba and 2,4-D have been “safely and widely used” since the 1960s, the USDA said. Still, many public comments focused on how the engineered crops will increase use of the older herbicides, as well as their impact on neighboring, non-target crops, the USDA said. Others discussed the potential for weeds to develop resistance to those chemicals as well.

‘Dramatic Increase’

The Center for Food Safety, which successfully sued to force the USDA to create environment impact statements for Roundup Ready sugarbeets and alfalfa, said approval of the new crops would cause a “dramatic increase” in the use of herbicides linked to health problems. The weedkillers also can drift onto wild plants, harming threatened and endangered species, the center said.

“While we welcome this decision, it remains to be seen whether the agency will undertake the required hard-look analysis of the environmental and economic impacts of these crops,” Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the center, said in a statement today.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents makers of biotechnology drugs and crops, said it was “disappointed” by the USDA’s decision. The action “sets bad precedent for future consideration of safe and beneficial genetically engineered plant products,” the organization said in a statement today.

Public Comments

USDA received 8,200 comments, including petitions signed by more than 400,000 people, on Dow’s applications to deregulate 2,4-D corn and soybeans. It got 500 individual comments and 31,000 form letters on Monsanto’s petition to deregulate dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton.

The Save Our Crops Coalition, which includes growers and processors of tomatoes, grapes and other specialty fruits and vegetables, said members are pleased the USDA will examine the “unprecedented threat” posed by dicamba-tolerant crops. Dicamba is “one of America’s most dangerous herbicides for non-target plant damage,” the coalition said in a statement today.

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