U.S. EPA approval of Dow herbicide breaks law, critics say

By Carey Gillam

By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) - U.S. regulatory approval on Wednesday for a Dow AgroSciences herbicide to be used with new genetically modified crops outraged critics, who say the approval violates environmental law and will create a host of problems for people and animals.

The Environmental Protection Agency gave final approval to Dow's Enlist Duo herbicide developed to be used with Dow's Enlist GMO corn and soybeans. The herbicide is approved immediately for use in six states, and the EPA is evaluating expansion to additional states.

The agency said it had thoroughly evaluated the risks that come with what is expected to be a large increase in the use of 2,4-D, an active ingredient of Enlist Duo.

But EarthJustice, and other pesticide, farm and consumer groups said the approval falls short of requirements under at least two federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, and could face a legal challenge.

"EPA has not followed the law," said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law organization that is evaluating legal action to try to stop the commercialization of Enlist Duo.

"In their view, a massive increase in the use of 2,4-D will have no impact on endangered species. They are supposed to consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They did not."

Loarie said EPA also failed to fully follow the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by ensuring that pesticides will not have an "unreasonable adverse impact" on human health or the environment.

"It is a huge threat," said Loarie.

EPA officials said they have followed the law. With respect to endangered species, the agency's assessment showed no effect if the herbicide is used as labeled, so it had no requirement to consult with the fish and wildlife service, EPA said.

It said that a host of restrictions it was placing on use of the herbicide would protect people and animals, including endangered species. 

The herbicide was developed by Dow, a unit of Dow Chemical, to help fight weed problems hurting U.S. crop production. Many weeds have grown resistant to glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide, developed by Monsanto Co. and used widely by cotton, corn and soybean farmers.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave final approval to Dow's Enlist corn and soybeans, which the company engineered to tolerate being sprayed with Enlist Duo herbicide. Farmers who plant Enlist crops can spray their fields with Enlist herbicide, killing weeds but not the crops.

Dow has said years of research show the new herbicide is safe. But thousands of public comments have poured into EPA urging denial of Enlist Duo, including warnings from a group of physicians and scientists who said 2,4-D can be linked to health problems that include suppressed immune function and greater risk of Parkinson’s disease.

The USDA has said the use of 2,4-D could triple by 2020, compared to current usage.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)