WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is deregulating two more strains of genetically engineered corn by determining they are not plant pests. The move to greenlight the use of GE, genetically engineered, pesticide-resistant corn strains comes on the heels of the agency's proposal in September to implement a stricter permitting process for GE wheat strains due to incidents of non-GE crops being contaminated by GE strains. The agency's comparative laxity in deregulating the GE corn strains is in stark contrast to increasing worldwide concern over GE crops and the increased pesticide use they reportedly bring.
In the two notices published Tuesday, APHIS determined Monsanto's rootworm- and glyphosate-resistant strain, MON 87411, merited a non-regulated status, and the agency issued a preliminary determination for a non-regulated status for Syngenta's glyphosate-resistant strain, MZHGOJG. The USDA's APHIS is tasked with overseeing the development of GE or GM, genetically modified, organisms. The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for overseeing the use of pesticides and herbicides.
The use of glyphosate, a pesticide marketed by Monsanto as the well-known brand Roundup, has risen in the U.S. from approximately 10 million pounds per year in 1992, to almost 300 million pounds in 2012, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. About a third of that total is sprayed on corn.
APHIS' corn deregulation notices were published the same day that the environmental groups Center for Food Safety (CFS), Earthjustice and five others filed a brief challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's approval of Dow AgroSciences' glyphosate pesticide, Enlist Duo, which pairs glyphosate with 2,4D, reportedly a component of the defoliant Agent Orange, according to the groups' statement, which claims the EPA approved the duel pesticide due to the explosion of glyphosate-resistant super weeds resulting from overuse of glyphosate on crops genetically engineered to resist the pesticide's effects.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said, "allowing this 2,4-D/glyphosate cocktail to be sprayed on the up to 150 million acres of corn and soybean acreage found in these states may harm or kill dozens of imperiled species, as well as increase the health risk to humans. EPA is supposed to be our watchdog, not the chemical industry's lapdog."
Less than a week ago, CFS, along with nearly 20 food, farming, public health and environmental organizations, also submitted a letter supporting California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment's decision to list glyphosate as a carcinogen under the state's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has known for years that glyphosate probably causes cancer, yet the agency has allowed Monsanto and other companies to sell more and more of it every year, without further regulation or labeling. In the absence of federal action, it is imperative that California be a leader in this issue by requiring labeling of products containing glyphosate," Rebecca Spector, CFS' west coast director, said in the letter.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, "the center of corn origin and diversity," a two-year-old lawsuit brought by 53 people and 20 organizations that "stopped GM maize from being planted in that country," has survived 93 legal challenges from Monsanto, Syngenta and other biotech corporations, according to a Center for International Policy, Americas Program, report.
"Contrary to what corporate propaganda claims, GM crops have increased the application of toxic agricultural chemicals. This has led to an unprecedented rise in the use of increasingly more toxic herbicides and insecticides, creating serious problems for the environment and public health. In the case of Monsanto's maize, the purpose of the genetic modification is indeed to obtain a plant resistant to the herbicide formulated by that very company (Roundup) - a perfect business," the CIP report stated.
At stake in the lawsuit are the emergence of super pests, the privatization of the world's seeds, and the loss of biodiversity and native varieties, the plaintiffs maintain. "The lawsuit has sown seeds of hope allowing us to create closer links and strengthen our long-standing fight for the defense of our maize", Argelia Arriaga, pharmacobiological chemist and historian from the Autonomous University of Puebla and one of the plaintiffs in the collective lawsuit, said.
Deregulation of Monsanto's strain is effective Oct. 27.
Comments on APHIS' notice regarding the deregulation of Syngenta's strain are due Nov. 27.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.