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EPA Plan to Slow Superweeds is Remedy in Name Only

September 11th, 2014
Center for Food Safety

Center for Food Safety identifies key flaws in Agency’s new plan

September 11, 2014 (Washington, DC)—Center for Food Safety today panned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new plan to manage herbicide-resistant weeds. The Agency will now require pesticide companies to take steps it says will help stem the tide of herbicide-resistant weeds. While the announcement is an important acknowledgement of an escalating problem for farmers, the new requirements fail to tackle the roots of the problem.

“In its current form, EPA’s plan is weak and will do little, if anything, to help farmers,” said Center for Food Safety science policy analyst Bill Freese.  “Much stronger action is required by regulators, industry and farmers alike if we are to have any hope of staving off this extremely serious threat to our agricultural system and environment.” 

“New genetically engineered crops resistant to multiple herbicides will lead to sharply expanding use of toxic weed-killers, resulting in still greater resistance, and weeds that are still more difficult and costly to control,” explained Freese.

EPA’s initiative comes as beleaguered farmers fight to contain an expanding epidemic of weeds that are immune to glyphosate and other weed-killers. The problem has dramatically worsened since Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate (brand name Roundup) in the mid-1990s.

EPA’s first resistance management plan is for Dow’s Enlist Duo, a mixture of glyphosate and 2,4-D that is intended for use on the company’s corn and soybean varieties that are genetically engineered to withstand them. EPA is set to approve Enlist Duo in the near future.

“There is not a single effective provision in this plan to prevent resistant weeds from developing in the first place,” added Freese, who has submitted a detailed critique to the Agency.  “To prevent resistance would require strict limits on the use of Enlist Duo, and this is something neither Dow nor EPA seems willing to consider. Instead, the plan is all about monitoring for resistant weeds after they have already developed.”

Under the plan, Dow, not EPA, is assigned the task of investigating reports of potentially resistant weeds from farmers, developing tests that determine if a weed is resistant, and publicizing cases of 2,4-D resistant weeds in the farm community.  

“Dow has strong financial incentives not to find or publicize resistant weeds, because doing so would signal the failure of their products, and so hurt sales,” said Freese. “We know this sort of company-led plan does not work.”

As an example, EPA put Monsanto in charge of monitoring for pest resistance to its genetically engineered “Bt” corn.  EPA records show that Monsanto dragged its feet in investigating farmer reports of resistant pests, set an inappropriately high bar for what constituted ‘resistance,’ and submitted incomplete reports to EPA.  As a result, resistant pests were only identified three years after they began emerging – and by university scientists rather than Monsanto. The Bt-resistant pest – corn rootworm – is now expanding throughout the Midwest, causing serious problems for farmers.

“The only way to effectively tackle herbicide-resistant weeds is much greater use of non-chemical weed control methods and lesser reliance on herbicides,” Freese added.  “Herbicide-resistant crops are taking us in precisely the wrong direction.”

 

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