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FLASHBACK: Biotech's solution to glyphosate-resistant superweeds? Use more chemicals, of course


(NaturalNews) A new generation of herbicide-resistant crops will only worsen, not solve, the growing problem of chemical-resistant superweeds, warned a 2014 editorial in the journal Nature.

Around the world, more and more agricultural weeds have become resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, marketed by its maker, Monsanto, under the trade name Roundup. The editorial cites the example of Roundup-resistant Palmer pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri), which was first documented in a Georgia cotton field in 2005 and has now spread across at least 23 states. This weed can grow 6 cm (2 inches) per day, reach heights of 2.5 m (8.2 ft) and produce more than half a million seeds. Its stem is so tough and woody that it can actually destroy farm equipment used for weeding.

GMOs to blame

Scientists agree that the global epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds -- with 25 million hectares (62 million acres) of cropland infested in the United States alone -- stems from the mid-1990s adoption of crops genetically engineered for glyphosate resistance. This led directly to a massive increase in the amount of glyphosate being used on agricultural fields, which in turn created intense selective pressure for weeds to evolve their own resistance. It is the same process that leads to the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Although herbicide-resistant weeds were already a problem prior to the adoption of "Roundup Ready" biotech crops -- much as insects continue to evolve resistance to various insecticides -- almost no crops had evolved resistance to glyphosate. According to the logic propounded by supporters of the genetically engineered (GE) crops, glyphosate was an intrinsically difficult herbicide for plants to evolve resistance to.

The ensuing decades have exposed the error of that line of thinking. Glyphosate-resistant weeds have now appeared in every country that has widely adopted Roundup Ready GE crops.

"Agent Orange corn" will make problem worse

In an effort to solve the growing problem, biotech companies are promoting crops engineered to resist multiple herbicides.

"In an eerie echo of the 1990s discussion around glyphosate tolerance," the Nature editorial reads, "some even point out that one of the other herbicides being targeted -- the choline salt of an old chemical called 2,4-D -- has been used for decades with little sign of resistance.

"It is a flawed argument. Stacking up tolerance traits may delay the appearance of resistant weeds, but probably not for long. Weeds are wily: farmers have already reported some plants that are resistant to more than five herbicides. And with glyphosate-resistant weeds already in many fields, the chances of preventing resistance to another are dropping."

The 2,4-D crops are engineered by Dow, which also manufactures the herbicide itself. 2,4-D is one of the major components of the notorious Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange, also a Dow product. Studies have linked 2,4-D (also marketed as Enlist), to health problems including cancer, hormone (endocrine) disruption, Parkinson's disease and reproductive problems.

The Nature editorial argues that rather than simply repeating the mistakes of the mid-1990s, farmers should use integrated weed management techniques such as crop rotation, moderate tilling and using a mix of separate herbicides rather than relying on just one or two.

The Center for Food Safety echoed the editorial's critique of using a new generation of GE crops to solve a problem created by GE crops.

"This is part of a growing problem, an escalating chemical arms race going on across America's heartland," the Center writes on the website Dow-Watch.org. "Dow Chemical is hyping GE 2,4-D corn and soy as the solution to resistant weeds, but GE crop systems caused the 'superweeds' in the first place. Like Roundup before it, 2,4-D is only a temporary solution that will require more and more toxic chemicals leaching into our environment and food supply."

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