Two new genetically modified crops from Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto have cleared crucial regulatory hurdles at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA), placing them one step closer to reaching farmers and consumers.
Both of these GMO crops are designed to address the growing problem of pests that have grown resistant to biotech pest control methods developed in the 1980s and 1990s.
The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced May 22 that it would grant preliminary approval to a strain of cotton that Dow has genetically modified to be tolerant of its Enlist Duo herbicide, a mixture of the chemicals glufosinate and 2,4-D.
On the same day, APHIS also issued an environmental assessment and a plant pest risk assessment for a new strain of corn from Monsanto that is modified to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate and to be resistant to the corn rootworm. Both assessments were favorable for Monsanto and are likely to lead to the service granting final approval for its corn as well.
APHIS announced both of these measures on its website. It said it will formally publish them in the Federal Register May 28.
The cotton from Dow is the third pillar of its Enlist crop management system, in which crops that can tolerate large doses of Enlist Duo are sold along with the herbicide. This allows farmers to use Enlist Duo liberally without harming their crops.
Enlist Duo's mixture of two chemicals makes it valuable to farmers who are grappling with herbicide-resistant weeds.
Dow already gained final USDA approval in 2014 for the other two pillars of its Enlist system: Enlist Duo-tolerant corn and soy crops.
The Environmental Protection Agency also granted approval in 2014 to use Enlist Duo on corn and soy. However, the agency hasn't yet approved using the herbicide mixture on cotton.
Pending final approval from the EPA and the USDA, Dow plans to begin selling its Enlist cotton in 2016, a Dow official told Bloomberg BNA. The official requested anonymity because the cotton is still going through the regulatory approval process.
Monsanto is touting its new GMO corn crop as the first in the next generation of plants with built-in insect resistant traits.
In addition to being genetically engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, the corn also has traits from the Bt bacterium that allow the corn to produce its insect-killing proteins.
Moreover, Monsanto's new strain of corn also contains a third trait that produces insect-killing proteins through an emerging technology called RNA interference.
RNA interference, part of a suite of new “gene editing” technologies that have emerged in recent years, involves the silencing of specific parts of a genome. In this instance, RNA-interference proteins from Monsanto's corn plant, after being eaten by an aggressive type of corn rootworm, silence the expression of one of the rootworm's genes, leading to its death.
Bt Not Enough
This would be the first GMO corn crop approved by the USDA to utilize RNA interference, APHIS spokesman R. Andre Bell told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.
Monsanto's inclusion of this RNA interference trait within its corn is an indication that the Bt trait alone is no longer enough. Many insect pests have developed a resistance to Bt corn, which has been planted throughout the world since the late-1990s.
These three traits, which Monsanto plans to combine with several other traits into its upcoming SmartStax PRO crop protection system, will “not only enhance the effectiveness of controlling this pest but also prolong the durability of the existing Bt technologies,” Monsanto spokesman Jeff Neu told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.
Neu said the company plans to take SmartStax PRO to the marketplace by the end of this decade, pending further regulatory approvals.