Dow gets green light for GMO corn in China, to launch weed-resistant seeds

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Cornfields overgrown with pesky weeds are bad for farmers, but could be very good for Dow AgroSciences.

The Indianapolis-based agricultural unit of Dow Chemical Co. says it has just the thing for farmers to control a wide assortment of unwanted grasses and broadleaf plants, including pigweed, a tough weed that has grown resistant to traditional herbicides.

In fact, Dow said the genetically modified product, which it developed in Indianapolis and plans to roll out next year, could become part of its biggest launch ever.

The product is an animal feed corn called Enlist that contains a biotech trait that is resistant to a companion herbicide called Enlist Duo.

“If you don’t control the weeds this year, they just go to seed and are very prolific,” said Joe Vertin, Dow AgroSciences’ global business leader for Enlist.

But the company could have a fight on its hands from environmentalists, who have fought to pull the herbicide off the market, saying it may carry significant health risks, including cancer.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved use of the herbicide in 2014. But, as recently as 2015, the EPA had moved to withdraw approval for the herbicide, claiming it had new evidence that the chemical damages plants other than the weeds it’s meant to kill.

Last fall, however, the agency said that its review determined Enlist "does not show any increased toxicity to plants and is therefore not of concern." Some environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it will take the EPA to court to try to stop that.

The herbicide, containing a proprietary technology called Colex-D, will kill weeds, but will not harm the Enlist corn, Dow said.

The company recently announced the launch after China approved the import of grain produced from corn using the Enlist technology.

Dow sees a huge market in the United States and Canada for farmers willing to buy the Enlist corn seed and herbicide to control weeds. Resistant and tough weeds now infest more than 100 million acres of American farmland, Dow said, citing a study from Stratus Ag Research.

China traditionally has been a large importer of grain, but requires approval of crops grown with biotech traits. The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture recently issued its approval.

Dow said it expect the launch, along with other new products, to help increase its sale of agricultural seeds by at least $600 million between now and 2020. The company declined to release specific sales targets for Enlist corn seeds.

The company last year launched cotton with Enlist traits, and also plans to launch soybeans with Enlist traits in the future. Together, they will represent the largest product launch in Dow Ag's history, Vertin said.

The Enlist corn is not for human consumption, but is primarily used as animal feed for poultry and hogs.

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