A new herbicide, long awaited by farmers as a tool to fight “superweeds,” but long opposed by environmental groups, has received final federal approval and is likely headed for Midwestern fields next year.
Enlist Duo, manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, could become an important competitor to Monsanto’s popular Roundup Ready system, which has dominated the corn and soybean market since the late 1990s.
The Environmental Protection Agency gave the green light recently for Dow AgroSciences to register Enlist Duo, clearing the way for the subsidiary of Dow Chemical to sell it in combination with new genetically engineered corn and soybean seeds.
The product will be initially allowed in six states: Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana. Approval is pending in Minnesota and nine other states where a public-comment period is now underway.
Minnesota Soybean Growers Association President George Goblish said that soybean farmers are excited about the decision, even though they won’t be able to take advantage of the product yet. “The Enlist Duo registration unties farmers’ hands and gives them another option to combat weed issues,” he said.
Enlist Duo combines two older weed-killers into one product: an herbicide component known as 2,4-D, and glyphosate, the chief ingredient in Roundup.
The herbicide would be sprayed early in the growing season, ideally when weeds and crops are 2 to 4 inches tall. The spraying would not affect Enlist corn and soybean plants, because their seeds have genetically engineered traits to tolerate the new herbicide formulation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the seeds last month.
The decision to approve the herbicide “is protective of everyone and the environment,” said Jim Jones, assistant EPA administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. The decision was based on “sound science,” he said, and evaluated the risks to all age groups from infants to elderly, as well as to farm workers and wildlife, including endangered species.
Environmental groups condemned the decision, and said that the EPA ignored serious health risks, especially to children, that are associated with 2,4-D. Critics said that the chemical has been linked to reproductive problems, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.
“Giving a chemical company the green light to bring a known harmful weed-killer to market for use on millions of acres of crops puts public health and the environment in danger,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, senior policy analyst for the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C.
Another environmental organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a lawsuit in D.C. Circuit Court to block use of the herbicide.
Andrew Liveris, Dow’s chairman and CEO, said the technology is expected to deliver significant value for the company over the short and long term. “Crossing this final milestone represents a pivotal achievement for Dow,” he said in a statement. The company will announce its 2015 market launch for the Enlist system in the coming weeks, officials said.
Dow AgroSciences developed the Enlist system to compete with Monsanto, whose Roundup Ready seeds account for about 90 percent of soybeans and 85 percent of corn planted in the United States each year.