March 11, 2012

Weeds Now Immune to Roundup

Pigweed in a soybean field. Photo by Pawpaw67 via Flikr

Roundup has been the most popular weed-killer since at least 1980. The U.S. company Montesanto patented the stuff in 1970 and has been marketing it since 1973. However, widespread use has led to farms being overrun by weeds that have become immune to chemicals. Food prices are expected to rise as farmland becomes swamped with weeds that are immune to poisons.

Has Roundup use resulted in super-weeds?

More 11 million acres of U.S. farmland is infested with "super-weeds" resistant to the popular herbicide known as Roundup, made by Montesanto. The weeds, some of which grow three inches a day and can damage farm equipment, have become immune to the weed-killer.

According to the trade journal Weed Science, at least 21 weed species have become resistant to the popular herbicide glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. A growing number of "super-weeds" now also survive a cocktail of other herbicides. The Daily Mail reports that desperate farmers and gardeners are resorting to even stronger chemicals. Wiser farmers and gardeners are ploughing and mulching fields in order to tackle the spread of the chemical-resistant varieties of weeds.

What is the GMO connection?
Monsanto also produces seeds which grow into plants genetically engineered to be tolerant to glyphosate, which the company sells as Roundup Ready crops. NPR reports that back in 1993, when Monsanto asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve Roundup-tolerant soybeans, it dispensed with the issue of potential resistant weeds in two modest paragraphs. It told the agency that "glyphosate is considered to be a herbicide with low risk for weed resistance." In other words, even though Montesanto was working to develop crops that could resist Roundup, they did not expect the weeds to adapt to the herbicide. However, excessive use has led to exactly that problem. And it doesn't stop at the United States borders with Canada and Mexico. “GM grass is a nightmare scenario for contamination into Canada,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, “GM plants do not stop at our border. To make matters worse, the grass is engineered to be tolerant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, so the GM grass will add to the spread of superweeds. Herbicide-tolerant weeds are already a major problem for U.S. farmers.” Welcome to the Roundup aftermath, everyone.

What can I do?
  1. Try to buy local, non-genetically-modified, organically-grown produce. 
  2. Don't use Roundup to kill weeds or edge the lawn, lest you find your garden infested with super-weeds and the soil unable to support any other greenery. Instead, pull out weeds and use an edging tool around the lawn. Weeds can also be killed with boiling water or vinegar.