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A group of produce farmers and processors is asking the U.S. government to examine the potential impact of new herbicide-tolerant genetically modified seed traits that Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) and Monsanto Co. (MON) plan to market in the next couple of years.
The petitions from the group, calling itself the Save Our Crops Coalition, coincide with complaints from some environmental groups that the new crops will lead to dramatically increased use of the herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba, posing a threat to the environment and nearby crops.
The coalition includes state vegetable grower associations from Indiana to Pennsylvania as well as Red Gold, a large tomato processor, and Seneca Foods, which produces canned vegetables for the Green Giant label. The group said it is not opposed to genetically modified crops, and is opposing the new seed traits out of concern about herbicide damage to other crops.
The new products in question are a Dow AgroSciences corn seed that includes a trait making the crop tolerant of 2,4-D, and a Monsanto soybean seed that would be tolerant of dicamba. Dow plans to begin selling the seed for the 2013 season, pending regulatory approval, while Monsanto's new product would be a year behind that.
The seed companies' efforts come as farmers increasingly grapple with weeds that have developed resistance to glyphosate, an herbicide that has dominated the market in recent years and has been marketed by Monsanto under the Roundup brand. The erosion of Roundup's dominance has ignited competition among seed and chemical companies to offer alternatives.
Opponents of the new Dow and Monsanto traits say that 2,4-D and dicamba are more harmful than glyphosate, and more prone to drifting onto neighboring fields.
The new seeds would prompt a dramatic increase in the use of both herbicides, which "threaten the survival of the specialty crop production in the Midwest," said Steve Smith, director of agriculture for Red Gold, an Indiana-based processor.
"It's time USDA, the stewards of American agriculture, stood up and considered the cumulative impacts of all these crops," Smith said.
The group is petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to examine to what extent these chemicals, when applied, can drift onto other fields, either in spray form or as vapor. It is petitioning the U.S. Department of Agriculture to examine how the chemical's drift would cumulatively affect yields on neighboring fields.
In February the USDA extended by two months a public comment period on Dow's new corn trait as it considers approval. The comment period ends April 27.
Dow AgroSciences said additional environmental assessment is unneeded, and that its 2,4-D includes new technology that vastly reduces drift.
The subsidiary of Dow Chemical said it is "disappointed in the organization's recent actions, given that we have worked with many current SOCC members for years to develop a product specifically designed to address their concerns."
It noted that 2,4-D is already used on corn, and said that farmers need the new technology as they deal with glyphosate resistance.
Monsanto didn't specifically address the petitions in a statement, but said "as we've developed dicamba crops, we have taken time to clearly understand both the weed pressure that farmers face and the environment in which they farm."
-By Ian Berry, Dow Jones Newswires; 312-750-4072; firstname.lastname@example.org