EPA nixes approval of new weed killer for engineered crops

In this photo taken Oct. 5, 2014, apples are displayed at a farmers market in Arlington, Va. A common pesticide used on citrus fruits, almonds and other crops would be banned under a proposal announced Friday by the Environmental Protection Agency. The proposal would prohibit use of chlorpyrifos, a widely used insecticide that is sprayed on a variety of crops including oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, broccoli and asparagus. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday withdrew approval of a controversial new weed killer to be used on genetically modified corn and soybeans.

The EPA announced the decision after receiving new information from manufacturer Dow AgroSciences that a weed killer called Enlist Duo is probably more toxic to other plants than previously thought.

It was originally approved a year ago and is designed to be used with new strains of genetically modified corn and soybeans. The agency says it needs to study whether wider buffer zones will be required to protect non-target plants.

The seeds are engineered to resist the herbicide, so farmers can spray the fields after the plants emerge and kill the weeds while leaving crops unharmed.

EPA’s move was welcomed by environmental and food safety groups that had sued to rescind approval of the potent new herbicide. But it is sure to create anxiety for the agriculture industry, since many weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide commonly used on genetically modified corn and soybeans now. Enlist includes a combination of glyphosate and an updated version of an older herbicide named 2,4-D.

“With this action, EPA confirms the toxic nature of this lethal cocktail of chemicals, and has stepped back from the brink,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Paul Achitoff. “Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen and is wiping out the monarch butterfly, 2,4-D also causes serious human health effects, and the combination also threatens endangered wildlife. This must not, and will not, be how we grow our food.”

Dow AgroSciences issued a statement calling for rapid resolution of the matter, citing “the pressing needs of U.S. farmers for access to Enlist Duo to counter the rapidly increasing spread of resistant weeds” and predicting that “these new evaluations will result in a prompt resolution of all outstanding issues.”

EPA’s decision means that Enlist Duo, which is currently on the market, won’t be in wide use for plantings next spring. EPA hasn’t said whether farmers already in possession of the herbicide will be able to use it, and that could be a topic for future litigation, said Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety.

 

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