As Dow seeks growth, new Enlist crop/chemicals seen as key
Dow and its competitors have been racing to come up with a replacement crop and chemical combination. Monsanto is also developing a new biotech cropping system, and Monsanto spokeswoman Gayla Daugherty said Dow's advancement through the regulatory system is "good news for ag technology."
While Dow is poised to be the first to garner regulatory approval, Monsanto hopes to be next in line.
Tough competition is only one of many hurdles Dow has faced. Even though Enlist combines a 60-year-old herbicide component known as 2,4-D that is found in hundreds of commonly used lawn care products, with glyphosate, the chief ingredient in long-used Roundup, the new herbicide has many critics.
The component 2,4-D has a reputation for drifting easily through the air and sometimes kills not just weeds but also crops beyond the fields where it is sprayed.
Also, 2,4-D was one of the ingredients in the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War that later was linked to illnesses in soldiers and Vietnamese civilians.
Opponents, citing USDA estimates for a dramatic increase in the use of 2,4-D, have said they fear potential health and environmental problems stemming from increased herbicide pollution in soil, air and waterways.
The USDA estimates that the use of 2,4-D will rise 74 percent even without Enlist to 44.5 million pounds by 2020, up from 25.6 million pounds in 2011. If Enlist is approved, USDA has said usage could rise to 176 million pounds by 2020.
"The admission that 2,4-D use will increase that much is huge. That is the biggest thing," said Bill Freese, a researcher with the Center for Food Safety, which opposes approval of Enlist.
Dow has said research shows the Enlist system is safe if properly used, but critics argue that Dow has falsely made that claim in the past. Dow's Dursban insecticide was a widely used household pesticide for decades until numerous health concerns led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out certain uses in 2000 because of risks found with the active ingredient, chlorpyrifos.
The EPA is currently wrapping up its evaluation of the Enlist Duo herbicide. EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn said the EPA final regulatory decision will be coordinated with the USDA's final decision after both agencies review the public comments about Enlist, which are accepted through Tuesday.
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Dow researchers have acknowledged some past problems with 2,4-D. But they have said Enlist is much improved, thanks to a new formulation that dramatically reduces the pesticide's ability to drift off-site or travel through the air as vapor.
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