APHIS has announced that it is delaying its deregulatory decision in order to prepare two separate environmental impact statements (EIS) for crops genetically engineered (GE) to be resistant to the herbicides 2,4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and Dicamba.

These are the first GE plants developed to be resistant to these specific herbicides, which have been approved by EPA and have been used widely across the country since the ’60s to control weeds on crop and non-crop sites. If approved, these GE plants would provide farmers the flexibility for new applications of these herbicides, while also offering farmers additional crop planting options. Dow AgroSciences is petitioning for one corn and two soy varieties resistant to 2,4–D (a resistant cotton variety is expected in the next few years) and Monsanto is petitioning for a Dicamba resistant soy and cotton variety.

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 by the Agency. If APHIS finds that 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. There have been two recent lawsuits filed by anti-biotech groups in which the court mandated APHIS to complete an EIS.

APHIS’ Notices of Intent to prepare these EISs will be officially published in the Federal Register in the near future, and each notice will be accompanied by a 60-day public comment period. In preparing the EISs, APHIS also plans to host public meetings that will be publicized through the Federal Register and the Agency’s website.

In a published statement, Cathleen Enright, executive vice president for Food and Agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry organization, expressed the industry’s disappointment in this decision saying, “we believe that this action by the Agency sets bad precedent for future consideration of safe and beneficial genetically engineered plant products. Not only does this decision come at a time when the Agency was looking to streamline its approval process and tighten timeframes, but at a time when American farmers need new tools to combat weeds and maximize yields – tools and technologies that are available to farmers in other countries. Unfortunately, the U.S. regulatory system for biotech products remains unnecessarily burdensome and unpredictable, and American farmers are paying the price.”

 

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