And that may actually be one of the most significant developments the world of weedkilling in more than a decade.
Another similar new weedkilling combination of the chemical dicamba and genetically engineered, dicamba-resistant crops is awaiting government approval. Promoters of these new herbicide-crop combinations say they are a big step forward. Critics are calling them a mindless step into ever-increasing dependence on toxic chemicals.
There's demand for such technologies because the last great weed-fighting weapon is starting to fail. Over the past two decades, farmers have come to rely, to an extraordinary extent, on glyphosate paired with "Roundup Ready" crops. But an increasing number of weeds have now evolved resistance to glyphosate. Farmers have had to resort to weedkilling chemicals that are more costly and often harder to manage. Many of those chemicals can't be sprayed directly on crops because they'd kill them.
Environmentalists and critics of genetically engineered crops condemned the EPA's decision Wednesday, arguing that it leads farmers "further down the futile path of chemical dependency," in the words of Andrew Kimbrell from the Center for Food Safety. Mary Ellen Kustin, from the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement that "this continued arms race between chemical companies and superweeds is a threat to sustainable farming and public health. EPA's decision to up the ante of Roundup by approving Enlist Duo is unconscionable."
In fact, the EPA's green light to Enlist Duo did contain some unusual provisions that the agency could eventually use to restrict its use. The EPA is requiring that Dow monitor the use of the new herbicide, work with farmers to avoid overusing it and come up plans to fight weeds that become resistant to the new weedkiller. In addition, the EPA's approval of Enlist Duo is temporary, and will expire in six years.
On the same day that the EPA approved the new herbicide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new program aimed at fighting the problem of herbicide-resistant weeds. According to the USDA statement, this problem "will not be solved solely through the application of new herbicides." USDA scientists will carry out research on non-chemical ways to control weeds, such as cover crops, and promote their use among farmers.
Copyright 2014 NPR.