The USDA has issued final approval on the Dow Enlist genetically modified corn and soybeans. The controversial seeds have been engineered to withstand applications of a new herbicide called Enlist Duo.
The Dow Enlist Duo herbicide is of particular concern to environmental and human health advocacy groups because it contains 2,4-D, one half of the potent defoliant Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War and linked with serious health problems including birth defects and cancer. Enlist Duo was created to combat resistance to the glyphosate-based herbicide, a problem becoming more common for farmers using the herbicide commonly marketed as Monsanto’s Roundup.
“Enlist will help farmers increase their productivity to meet the growing demand for a safe and affordable food supply,” Tim Hassinger, president of Dow AgroSciences, said in a statement.
The USDA decision is provisional, however. “Commercial application of the system requires both the new seed traits as well as the new herbicide to be approved by the regulatory authorities,” reports Forbes. The Environmental Protection Agency must approve the use of Enlist Duo herbicide in order for the seeds to be planted. The agency’s approval is expected but has not been issued yet.
Monsanto is also readying another herbicide tolerant system, “Roundup Ready Xtend” which adds dicamba, another strong herbicide, to its popular glyphosate product in order to address glyphosate-resistant weeds. But similar to Dow Enlist Duo, there’s no guarantee that crops won’t also develop resistance to these stronger herbicides, which leaves many critics of genetically modified seeds concerned about what these biotech companies will do when resistance to 2,4-D and dicamba occurs.
“USDA missed an opportunity to chart a new course for our farmers that will reduce our reliance on dangerous weed killers,” Gary Hirschberg, Chairman of Just Label It, a pro-GMO labeling organization, said in a statement. “Ultimately farmers and rural residents will pay a steep price due to the long term health effects associated with tripling the use of the toxic defoliant 2,4-D. It is now up to the EPA to put human health and the environment first and stop the use of more toxic weed killers as a solution to combatting superweeds.”
“The USDA approval of Enlist after such a fundamentally flawed review process is a slap in the face to farmers,” Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network told Reuters. “Thousands of farmers have warned USDA of the crop damage, economic losses and health risks they will face from pesticide drift, if these 2,4-D resistant seeds hit the market.” The group is planning on pursuing legal options in order to protect farmers.