The rise of the super weeds April 12, 2007Posted by Andreas in Environment, genetic engineering, News.
One of the environmental threats that campaigners opposed to genetically engineered (GE) crops have long warned about is the possible emergence of herbicide-resistant super weeds. Pro-GE pundits and multinationals like Monsanto have always dismissed these suggestion as fear mongering nonsense.
There is, however, growing evidence that such super weeds are in fact flourishing in certain areas and causing havoc in farming communities.
The biotech industry has been heavily marketing agricultural crops that are resistant to specific herbicides such as for example genetically engineered cotton that is resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosphate-based product Roundup.
The idea is that farmers who plant these proprietary crops only need to apply relatively small amounts of proprietary herbicide which will kill all plants, including weeds, with the exception of the crop plants themselves.
This would lead to lower overall herbicide use (and hence be environmentally friendly), easier crop cultivation, decreased crop losses and enhanced yields.
That all sounds great in theory, but GE-opponents warned that such practices would ultimately spawn so-called super weeds resistant to the glyphosphate herbicides. And then, farmers would be in real trouble!
It turns out that the concerns over super weeds may have been very well founded.
The Delta Farm Press (not exactly the most radical of sources when it comes to environmental issues) reports that glyphosphate-resistant horseweed (which has been shown to reduce cotton yields by up to 70 percent), Palmer pigweed and waterhemp have been causing major problems for cotton farmers in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Georgia and the Carolinas.
Glyphosphate-resistant horseweed has spread much more quickly than anticipated […].
The staggering increase in glyphosate-resistant horseweed followed a spectacular rise in the amount of glyphosate products (Roundup, Touchdown and others) being applied in cotton and other glyphosate-tolerant crops.
[According to Larry Steckel, Extension weed scientist with the University of Tennessee,] “We saw a 752-percent increase in glyphosate applications between 1997 and 2003″[emphasis added] […]
Weed scientists say glyphosate-resistant horseweed and pigweed can be managed with a combination of herbicides, but it will cost growers more.
These are sobering if not unexpected findings and, for me at least, they provide more concrete evidence that genetically-engineered agricultural crops will result in more damage than benefits in the long run.