It’s a story that’s been severely underreported for the past several years. Grist food writer Tom Philpott has done a nice job keeping up with it, but it’s nice to see the New York Times finally take up the issue of glyphosate-resistant superweeds.
Monsanto introduced the herbicide glyphosate (then marketed as Roundup) to the markeplace in the 1970s, along with crops that were genetically-engineered to be resistant to glyphosate (like Roundup Ready corn and soy). At first, glyphosate worked like a magic potion; it killed all unwanted weeds without affecting crops. Glyphosate was billed as an environmental savior too, becuase farmers no longer had to till fields, which causes soil erosion and creates more pesticide-laden runoff.
Gradually, though, the more robust weeds, like horseweed and Palmer pigweed, developed resistance to the chemical. “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,” says the Times report.
Superweeds are multiplying, and in response, conventional farmers are using more and more glyphosate, and they’re fighting them with a cocktail of different herbicides. Others are starting to plow their fields again, to manage weeds. Monsanto’s response to superweeds? “Monsanto and other agricultural biotech companies are also developing genetically engineered crops resistant to other herbicides,” according to the article.