Monsanto’s Roundup Catastrophe


Where Weedkiller Won't Work (map via The New York Times)

Watch for higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs, and more pollution of land and water, says The New York Times, since American farmers’ “near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.”

Also known as glyphosate, Roundup has led to the spread of Roundup-resistant weeds across the country. As shown in the map above, at least 10 species of these weeds have infested farmland in 22 states since 2000.

It’s just like our antibiotic story: Organisms naturally evolve to defeat what originally kills them. But that’s not the only problem. Roundup is made by Monsanto, which also produces seeds for Roundup Ready crops–genetically engineered plants that are tolerant to glyphosate. Such crops allow farmers to spray their fields to kill the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed. And, Roundup Ready crops are patented. In fact, Monsanto has a lot of control over what we eat in this country, and throughout the world. If you eat soy beans, it’s likely they’re a Monsanto Roundup Ready crop.

Roundup was introduced in the late 1990s and was well received because it kills a wide range of weeds, is easy and safe to work with, and breaks down quickly, reducing its environmental impact. Today, Roundup Ready crops account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States. 

However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds. Roundup-resistant weeds like horseweed and giant ragweed are forcing farmers to go back to more expensive techniques that they had long ago abandoned. Unfortunately, that means using more herbicides to tackle the Roundup-resistant weeds.

Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety in Washington was quoted in The Times saying, “The biotech industry is taking us into a more pesticide-dependent agriculture when they’ve always promised, and we need to be going in, the opposite direction.”

Looks like we’re in a pickle.

[See what Michael Pollan says in a debate about the topic posted on the “Room for Debate” page of The New York Times.

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