Feds delay approval of new Monsanto crops over environmental concerns

Biotech giant Monsanto faced a surprising setback after federal authorities refused to approve a new generation of genetically-engineered crops that could survive an unprecedented use of herbicides.

Monsanto was awarded a big win on Monday by the United States
Supreme Court, but another federal ruling made only days earlier
brought some comparatively bad news to the biotech giant.

The US Department of Agriculture announced Friday
that they’ve ordered additional environmental impact statements
(EIS) for herbicide-resistant crops that have been waiting for
federal approval. Now Monsanto and the chemical company Dow will
have to sit anxiously and await the results of those assessments
before they are given the go-ahead to sell genetically-engineer
plants that have raised serious environmental issues.

At stake is the future for a variety of corn, soybean and cotton
crops that have been genetically-engineered to resist two
heavy-duty pesticides, namely 2,4-D and dicamba. Both Monsanto and
Dow have been hoping to get the go-ahead to sell these crops, but
ordering further testing will set the release date back to perhaps
2015.

A number of farmers and environmentalists have opposed the
selling of crops resistant to these chemicals, because the result
could likely mean dousing fields with pesticides in unprecedented
levels.

“The danger that 2,4-D and dicamba pose is a real threat to
crops…nearly every food crop,”
Steve Smith, director of
agriculture at Red Gold, told Reuters last year.

Dr. Gina Solomon, a board-certified in Occupational and
Environmental Medicine and Internal Medicine specialist, wrote of
concerns stemming from the use of 2,4-D as a crucial component in
an infamous chemical warfare campaign during the Vietnam War.
“There’s no reason to continue allowing a toxic Agent
Orange-ingredient in the places our children play, our families
live and our farmers work. EPA must step up and finally put a stop
to it,
” she said.

And although the Environmental Protection Agency refused a
petition to ban the sale of these chemicals, the USDA has now said
they think further investigation is warranted.

Tom Philpott, a reporter for Mother Jones, broke down the
significant of last week’s USDA decision to order more testing:

“What’s going on here is that under the National
Environmental Policy Act, all federal agencies, including USDA, are
required to perform an EIS if there’s a chance that a regulatory
decision will affect the human environment. But for years, the USDA
did not issue such analyses as part of its process of approving GMO
crops, and watchdog groups like the Center for Food Safety have
repeatedly and successfully sued the department for failing to do
so,”
Philpott wrote.

“The immediate effect will be a substantial delay in any
final decision on approval,”
added Philpott, who called the
decision on the part of the Obama administration to delay a
possible approval “such a surprise.” Only weeks earlier, the
president signed into law an agricultural spending bill that
included a provision that provides biotech companies with liability
from future lawsuits filed over possible health hazards brought on
by unregulated and untested GMO products.

Before that bill was advanced out of Congress, farmers
petitioned Washington to warn what that act could
accomplish.“The provision would strip federal courts of the
authority to halt the sale and planting of an illegal, potentially
hazardous GE crop while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
assesses those potential hazards,”
they wrote. “Further, it
would compel USDA to allow continued planting of that same crop
upon request, even if in the course of its assessment the
Department finds that it poses previously unrecognized
risks.”

In a statement delivered to Bloomberg this week, the Center for
Food Safety said they saluted the USDA’s decision, but warned that
it won’t necessitate an investigation as thorough as they’d
like.

“While we welcome this decision, it remains to be seen
whether the agency will undertake the required hard-look analysis
of the environmental and economic impacts of these crops,”
Bill
Freese, science policy analyst for the center, wrote in a
statement.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a group that represents
makers of biotechnology drugs and crops, said it was
“disappointed” by the decision and that the action “sets
bad precedent for future consideration of safe and beneficial
genetically engineered plant products.”

This article originally appeared on : RT