Monsanto, the developer of the herbicide Roundup, should have seen it coming. All across the country, weeds are quickly mutating to become resistant to Roundup. Many scientists did see it coming, including Jane Rissler and Margaret Mellon of the Union for Concerned Scientists. They even wrote a book on The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops in 1996 in which they warned of just such a thing.
But now the New York Times has posted a nearly hysterical article about the End of Roundup. Think: Oh NO, America! Without Roundup and the benefit of genetically-engineered monocultures, agriculture will totally fall apart, get even more expensive, require us to use even more toxic chemicals just to keep our plants alive, and contribute to extensive erosion!! The impact on the environment will be terrible.
It would be laughable if it weren’t all such a bunch of marketing spin. It reminds me of the marketing campaign Monsanto launched last year. You know the one. The one where they declared their total dedication to “sustainable agriculture.”
Here are some choice quotations from the article:
To fight them, Mr. Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.
“We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,” said Mr. Anderson, who will plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring, more than he has in years. “We’re trying to find out what works.”
Farm experts say that such efforts could lead to higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution of land and water.
“It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,” said Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.
Oh really? It seems like it’s a threat to sales of genetically engineered seeds for crops such as the Roundup resistant soybeans, corn, and cotton that Monsanto developed in the 1990s. After all, why would a farmer buy such expensive seeds year after year when spraying the crop with Roundup no longer effectively kills competing weeds? But a threat to production agriculture?
Oh wait. These days production agriculture is genetically-engineered agriculture. More than 90% of the soybeans, 70% of the corn, and 70% of the cotton grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered. In the U.S. alone, more than 170 million acres are planted with these GMO crops.
But not to worry, America. This doesn’t spell the end of genetically engineered crops!
Monsanto and other agricultural biotech companies are also developing genetically engineered crops resistant to other herbicides.
Bayer is already selling cotton and soybeans resistant to glufosinate, another weedkiller. Monsanto’s newest corn is tolerant of both glyphosate and glufosinate, and the company is developing crops resistant to dicamba, an older pesticide. Syngenta is developing soybeans tolerant of its Callisto product. And Dow Chemical is developing corn and soybeans resistant to 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange, the defoliant used in the Vietnam War.
Still, scientists and farmers say that glyphosate is a once-in-a-century discovery, and steps need to be taken to preserve its effectiveness.
Glyphosate “is as important for reliable global food production as penicillin is for battling disease,” Stephen B. Powles, an Australian weed expert, wrote in a commentary in January in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This is where I actually inhaled my morning cup of tea and began choking in complete incredulity.
I agree that antibiotics are truly an amazing, once-in-a-century discovery. And I am appalled that they are slowly losing their effectiveness thanks to their overuse in food production.
But honestly? I actually rejoice that Roundup is nearing its end. Perhaps rather than turning towards even more biotech crops, chemicals, and toxins, farmers might heed the growing call to turn to a more organic, realistically sustainable production method.
What do you think?
(photo by Ian Hayhurst)