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Aug 6 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Tuesday said they are leaning toward approval of a new line of herbicide-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto Co even though they could increase problematic weed resistance for farmers.
Under the draft "environmental impact statement" (EIS) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the agency said its analysis shows the new genetically modified cotton and soybean plants should be approved.
St. Louis-based Monsanto, said the APHIS move was "a noteworthy sign of progress."
"It is an important step in the regulatory process and we are encouraging farmers to urge APHIS to complete this action as soon as possible," Michelle Vigna, Monsanto's product manager, said in a statement.
Monsanto developed the new soybeans and cotton to resist a new herbicide that combines dicamba and glyphosate and which Monsanto is branding as Roundup Xtend. The "Roundup Ready Xtend crop system" is aimed at combating the millions of acres of weeds that have grown resistant to Monsanto's glyphosate-based Roundup, which has been used extensively on the company's biotech corn, soybeans and cotton.
APHIS also on Tuesday issued a final EIS for genetically altered corn and soybean plants developed by Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical. That EIS also states that the agency intends to approve the products. APHIS has already said in January that it was leaning toward approval for Dow's products.
Dow has developed what it calls Enlist corn and soybeans that resist a new herbicide developed by Dow that includes both glyphosate and 2,4-D.
A final decision is expected after a 30-day public review period, the agency said.
American farmers are "one step closer to obtaining a critical tool needed to manage resistant and hard-to-control weeds," Dow said in a statement.
Both Monsanto's and Dow's new cropping systems have seen regulatory decisions delayed by intense opposition from many consumer, environmental and farmer groups who say there are a host of concerns with both products.
The groups say using more herbicides on weeds will only increase weed resistance over the long term. And increased herbicide use also brings increased risks of health problems and environmental pollution, they say.
"We are outraged," said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist with the Pesticide Action Network North America. "Despite all of this public outcry, what these decisions show is that USDA is much more interested in working with Dow and Monsanto and getting their products to market than in protecting the public."
In its statement about Monsanto's new products issued Tuesday, APHIS said farmers would see benefits, but acknowledged there also would likely be "an increased chance of the development of weeds resistant to dicamba."
The draft EIS for Monsanto's products will be available for a 45-day public review and comment period, APHIS said.
Alongside the USDA/APHIS regulatory process, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is concluding its concurrent review of the related herbicides.
Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; editing by Andrew Hay