Seed deregulation plan prompts concerns

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Posted: Friday, January 3, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Tue Mar 25, 2014.

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The federal government on Friday proposed eliminating restrictions on corn and soybean seeds that are genetically engineered to resist a common weed killer, a move welcomed by many farmers but worrisome to scientists and environmentalists who fear it could invite growers to use more chemicals on crops.

The herbicide known as 2,4-D has had limited use in corn and soybean farming because it becomes toxic to the plants early in their growth. The new seeds would allow farmers to use the weed killer throughout the plants’ lives.

Farmers have been eager for a new generation of herbicide-resistant seeds because of the prevalence of weeds that have become immune to Monsanto’s Roundup. But skeptics are concerned that use of the new seeds and 2,4-D will lead to similar problems with weeds resistant to that chemical.

Scientists and environmentalists also say 2,4-D can easily drift beyond the area where it is sprayed, threatening neighboring crops and wild plants.

Most corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are already genetically engineered, usually with a Roundup-resistant trait.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant-inspection agency concluded that the greatest risk from the new seeds developed by Dow AgroSciences was increased use of 2,4-D, which could hasten the evolution of weeds resistant to it.

But, the agency said, resistance could develop anyway because 2,4-D is the third most-used weed killer in the nation.

For now, the seeds can be used only in tightly controlled trials. But the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service published a draft environmental-impact statement Friday as part of the process for potential deregulation of the seeds.

The public has 45 days to comment on the report. The government has considered 2,4-D to be safe, but the Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a separate review on the impact of expanded use. It’s expected to release a report in the coming months.

The EPA and the USDA are expected to make final decisions simultaneously on use of the chemical and seeds. That could happen in the spring or early summer.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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