Ethan A. Huff
The proliferation of superweeds — weeds that have mutated to develop resistance to popular herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup formula — continues to rise. But the individual plants’ overall size and strength is also increasing. According to a series of new studies published in the journal Weed Science, farmers are having more trouble than ever dealing with out-of-control superweeds in their fields, some of which grow up to three inches a day in size, and are so strong and thick that they are destroying farm equipment.
The studies reveal that there are currently at least 21 different weed species known to be resistant to Roundup, also known generically as glyphosate. These species include ragweed, pigweed, horseweed, waterhemp, and ryegrass. Since 2007, the total acreage of farmland known to be infested with superweeds has also jumped more than 450 percent, from 2.4 million acres to 11 million acres, which means that the problem is only going to get exponentially worse.
“Super-strains of plants like pigweed — which grows three inches a day and is tough enough to damage farm machinery — have emerged, which may dramatically reduce the options for farmers to control them,” writes Fast Company in a recent piece on the issue. “The alternatives are usually more dangerous chemicals or plowing and mulching fields, undermining many of the environmental benefits biotech crops are supposed to offer. It’s ‘the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,’ claims Andrew Wargo III, president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.”
And yet for years Monsanto has denied, at least in part, that Roundup is the cause of superweeds, alleging also that widespread concern about the issue is overblown. Though it now admits that Roundup may actually be culprit in spawning superweeds (you think?), Monsanto is trying to somehow spin the situation in a positive light. Back in 2010, for instance, a writer for Monsanto’s public relations blog actually claimed that using too little Roundup might be a cause of superweeds (http://www.monsantoblog.com/2010/05…).
Herbicide resistance is not limited to just Roundup
Genetically-modified (GM) crops, which are the primary target of herbicide applications like Roundup, are currently planted in roughly 200,000 square miles of American farmland. Their very existence requires repeated applications of herbicides and pesticides, including Roundup. But some of the same superweeds that have developed resistance to Roundup — but that used to at least respond to other herbicides, or combinations of herbicides — have now developed resistance to these alternative eradication methods as well.
A recent report in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (SLPD) explains that farmers are quickly running out of options for controlling the superweed problem, as many superweeds are now resistant to three or four other herbicides, and counting, besides Roundup. Superweeds with massive stems up to four inches thick are devastating fields, and farmers are becoming desperate for solutions (http://www.stltoday.com/business/lo…).
“It’s rather ironic that we were sold glyphosate as an alternative to these older pesticides, and now farmers are using them again,” said Brett Lorenzen, a legal analyst with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), to SLPD concerning farmers trying anything and everything to get rid of superweeds. “But that’s part of the pattern of the pesticide industry.”
The same report explains that, in order to get rid of the monstrous superweeds, farmers are having to hire laborers to hack down the behemoth plants by hand, which together with trying all sorts of other pesticides and herbicides, is costing farmers more time and money than if they had never planted GM crops in the first place.
Superweeds are spreading their traits to plants everywhere
Shuffling around pesticides and herbicides, and manually chopping down weeds, however, will not ultimately solve the superweed problem. No matter how many chemical applications conventional and GM crop farmers apply, superweeds just continue to get stronger and more pervasive. And they are becoming so strong that not only are they squelching all non-resistant weeds from existence, but they are also spreading resistant genes to other plants.
“Pollen can transfer the resistant trait; that’s the problem,” said Kevin Bradley, a weed scientists from the University of Missouri, to SLPD. “There’s not much we can do about pollen flying through the air, and that’s why we see such rapid spread of resistance.”
The USDA, of course, continues to allow the introduction of new GMOs like alfalfa, sugar beets, and now even Kentucky bluegrass, because it does not view GMOs any differently than normal crops (http://motherjones.com/environment/…).
The agency has refused to hold GMOs to a higher standard as it should, and instead has reneged any responsibility for properly regulating “frankencrops” — and thus the world is being overrun by superweeds.
The only way it is possible to get rid of superweeds, if such a task is even still possible, is to end the cultivation of GM crops for good. In order to accomplish this, every GM field would have to be uprooted, tilled, and burned, and the whole of mainstream agriculture would have to embrace a system of chemical-free polyculture that naturally encourages proper soil health and microbial diversity, two factors that eliminate the need for using the herbicides and pesticides that have played a major factor in the superweed problem (http://www.naturalnews.com/031597_D…).
Sources for this story include: