JACKSON, Miss. (AP) Some Mississippi cotton growers say they will be hurt by a federal agency's decision not to allow continued production of a herbicide that has been teamed with genetically engineered cotton. But O.A. Cleveland Jr., an extension marketing specialist at Mississippi State University in Starkville, said it's too early to draw such a conclusion. "I think it's probably much ado about nothing at this stage," Cleveland said of the recent Environmental Protection Agency ruling.
Citing possible cancer risks, EPA announced it will not renew the temporary federal food tolerances granted during last year's growing season for the herbicide Buctril, specifically targeting an ingredient known as bromoxynil and a chemical byproduct called DBHA. The temporary use provisions ended Jan. 1. Rhone-Poulenc Ag Co. of North Carolina, which makes Buctril, has promised a vigorous challenge of the EPA decision.
Genetically altered cotton seed is resistant to Buctril, allowing growers to spray fields for weeds once the cotton begins growing without killing their crop.
The combination of special seeds and the herbicide is promoted as a way to save money. Farmers would not have to spray for weeds before the cotton emerges from the ground but could still spray later, depending on the weed growth.
Allowing the temporary tolerances for Buctril to expire will likely cut into the sale of the more expensive genetically altered seeds, officials said.
Continued cultivation of the new cotton poses "serious concerns about developmental risks to infants and children," said Lynn Goldman, an assistant EPA administrator.
"In particular, we are concerned that the data show significant and irreversible human health effects," Goldman informed U.S. cotton growers in a letter.
In allowing the temporary use provision to expire, EPA applied new pesticide rules that provide more health protection for infants and children. It applied an additional tenfold safety factor for assessing health risks under the federal Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, which emphasized that children are exposed to more pesticides in food or can be more sensitive to them.
Private scientists and state officials said the risk of unspecified birth defects was at issue in the Buctril decision.
The chemicals enter diets through various foods cooked in or made with products derived from cottonseed, such as mayonnaise or corn chips fried in cottonseed oil. The EPA said unacceptable health risks also may arise from eating such things as beef and poultry from animals fed cottonseed meal. The agency said it is concerned about unacceptable cancer risks of continued use of the herbicide on cotton. A recent laboratory study showed bromoxynil produces liver tumors in mice.
"We don't think it is a decision based on sound science," said Rhone-Poulenc spokesman Rick Rountree. "We think the dietary risk is absolutely minuscule."
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Last Updated on 5/21/99
By Karen Lutz