By Carey Gillam
St. Louis, Mo. May 14 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co. is pushing on with plans to introduce a controversial new type of herbicide-tolerant crop, and last week's decision by the U.S. government to extend its scrutiny of the proposed new crops should not spell a significant delay, a top company official said Tuesday.
U.S.-based Monsanto is setting up 20 field locations around the United States to test and market its "Xtend" soybean product at the same time that company officials said they would be working quickly to provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture with additional study data to show the product's safety. The company continues to have a goal of securing regulatory approval by 2015 or shortly after, Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robert Fraley said in an interview.
"We'll put the additional studies in and we'll move through it as quickly as we can," he said.
Monsanto's new soybeans are genetically altered to tolerate dousings of a herbicide concoction of glyphosate and dicamba chemicals. Monsanto developed the biotech crop in conjunction with BASF to address an explosion of crop-choking weeds around the U.S. that have become resistant to glyphosate, which is the chief ingredient in Monsanto's popular Roundup herbicide.
The company was surprised on Friday when USDA regulators said they wanted to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) after receiving an onslaught of opposition to the company's plans from critics who say the new chemicals will only further weed resistance and have other harmful impacts.
Monsanto had not expected to go through that process before receiving regulatory approval, and said it could take an additional 15 months.
Still, Fraley said the delay would give them extra time to expose farmers and retailers to the product and acquaint them with how to use the genetically altered beans in conjunction with the Xtend herbicide. And it should allow Monsanto to come to market with a better seed supply if and when regulators grant approval, said Fraley.
The move by USDA to require more scrutiny comes after it lost court challenges to previous approvals it granted for biotech sugarbeets and alfalfa. Courts said the USDA broke the law by failing to do an EIS for each.
In its decision announced Friday, the USDA also said it would require an EIS for new herbicide-tolerant corn known as Enlist developed by Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical .
Critics contend the new Monsanto and Dow crops will accelerate herbicide use and further weed resistance problems. They also warn that increased use of the new herbicides that would come with the new crops would cause damage to fruits, vegetables and other crops as dicamba and 2,4-D have been known to travel on the wind far from the fields where they are sprayed. Many also worry that the new biotech crops will contaminate conventional and organic crops and potentially harm human and animal health.
But Monsanto and Dow say the chemicals and the crops are proven safe and the best hope for farmers who are suffering reductions in crop production due to weeds.
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