Pesticide-resistant crops vanquished by super-pests. Monsanto says problem is exaggerated
Even my cynical soul rebelled when I first read that Monsanto was doing genetic modification, not to make plants more resistant to pests, but to make them more resistant to pesticide.
U.S. Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds
by William Neuman and Andrew Pollack for the New York Times, May 3, 2010
Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.
The superweeds could temper American agriculture’s enthusiasm for some genetically modified crops. Soybeans, corn and cotton that are engineered to survive spraying with Roundup have become standard in American fields. However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds.
Sales took off in the late 1990s, after Monsanto created its brand of Roundup Ready crops that were genetically modified to tolerate the chemical, allowing farmers to spray their fields to kill the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed.
But farmers sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it.
“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,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety in Washington.
Monsanto and other agricultural biotech companies are also developing genetically engineered crops resistant to other herbicides.
Georgia has been one of the states hit hardest by Roundup-resistant pigweed, and Mr. Perry said the pest could pose as big a threat to cotton farming in the South as the beetle that devastated the industry in the early 20th century.
“If we don’t whip this thing, it’s going to be like the boll weevil did to cotton,” said Mr. Perry, who is also chairman of the Georgia Cotton Commission. “It will take it away.”