| March 31
March 31 U.S. regulators will put new
restrictions on the world's most widely used herbicide to help
address the rapid expansion of weeds resistant to the chemical,
Reuters has learned.
The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed it will
require a weed resistance management plan for glyphosate, the
key ingredient in Monsanto's immensely popular Roundup
The agency has scheduled a conference call for next week
with a committee of the Weed Science Society of America to
discuss what the final plan for glyphosate should entail, said
Larry Steckel, a Tennessee scientist who chairs the committee.
An EPA spokeswoman declined to give specifics of the plan,
but told Reuters that its requirements will be similar to those
placed on a new herbicide product developed by Dow AgroSciences,
a unit of Dow Chemical Co..
Requirements for the Dow herbicide include weed monitoring,
farmer education and remediation plans. The company is required
to provide extensive reporting to the EPA about instances of
weed resistance and to let "relevant stakeholders" know about
the difficulties of controlling them via a company-established
Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord would not discuss whether
the company was negotiating a plan with regulators, but said
Monsanto "will continue to work with the EPA to ensure proper
product stewardship as we move through the regulatory process."
At least 14 weed species and biotypes in the United States
have developed glyphosate resistance, affecting more than 60
million acres of U.S. farmland, according to data gathered by
the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. weed scientists. The
herbicide-resistant weeds hinder crop production and make
farming more difficult and expensive.
The EPA's action comes in the wake of a finding by the World
Health Organization's cancer research unit this month that
glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic to humans," a conclusion
the working group said was based on a review of years of
scientific research. Testing has found residues of the herbicide
in water, food, urine and breast milk.
The EPA's weed management plan will not address human health
concerns, but the agency is also analyzing health data as part
of a required reevaluation of the herbicide.
The EPA's preliminary risk assessment of glyphosate is
expected to be released for public comment later this year, and
the agency will publish its proposed weed management plan for
public comment at the same time.
Regulators in the United States and many other countries
have long considered glyphosate among the safest herbicides in
use. A review of the chemical by the German government for the
European Union last year concluded that no link to cancer has
And Monsanto Co., which held the patent on glyphosate until
2000 and last year sold more than $5 billion of Roundup
herbicide, says the weed-killing agent has been proven safe
repeatedly. Last week, the company blamed "agenda-driven groups"
for fueling false reports about glyphosate.
But the chemical's critics, including environmentalists,
scientists and opponents of genetically modified foods, hope the
WHO finding will help convince the EPA that tighter controls on
the herbicide are needed, not just to prevent the growth of
herbicide-resistant weeds, but also to protect human health.
On March 26, a coalition of public interest groups,
including the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center
for Food Safety sent a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy
urging the agency to "weigh heavily" WHO's finding as it
prepares its risk assessment.
How the EPA chooses to handle glyphosate is a closely
watched issue for the agricultural industry.
Globally, the herbicide is a key ingredient in more than 700
products and is used to control weeds in gardens, along
roadsides and on millions of acres of farmland.
Steckel said that his committee will express some concerns
in its call with the EPA next week. Specifically, he said, the
group sees shortcomings in the management plant the agency has
for Dow AgroSciences and would like a glyphosate plan that
allows for state-specific provisions.
"We are here on the ground, and we think we could tailor
things to have more impact than just one overarching plan from
the federal government...," said Steckel, a row crop weed
specialist at the University of Tennessee. "We have to preserve
these herbicides. There really are no new ones."
At least 283.5 million pounds of glyphosate were used in
U.S. agriculture in 2012, the most recent year for which data is
available, up from 110 million pounds in 2002, according to the
U.S. Geological Survey. (reut.rs/1NcACgm) According to
the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 90 percent of the
soybeans and cotton grown in the United States last year, and 89
percent of the corn, was genetically modified to withstand
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Sue