Friday, May 7, 2010

Weeds 1, Monsanto 0, Farmers -1

by wufnik
This should come as no surprise, but The New York Times breathlessly informed us yesterday that US farmers are starting to have a hard time coping with Roundup-resistant weeds. That's right. Straight from the heart of the country where people don't want to see evolution taught, farmers are getting a real-life lesson in evolutionary theory. I bet no one, absolutely no one, saw this one coming.

Here's how The Times presents it:

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.

To fight them, Mr. Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.

"We're back to where we were 20 years ago," said Mr. Anderson, who will plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring, more than he has in years. "We're trying to find out what works."

Farm experts say that such efforts could lead to higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution of land and water.

Well, this turns out to not be a new problem, exactly. In fact, there were Round-up resistant weeks ten years ago, found in a soybean field. And the problem has spread since then. And The Times, which has never expressed much reluctance for any new crackpot scheme that also manages to benefit corporate America, ominously intones:

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.

Roundup — originally made by Monsanto but now also sold by others under the generic name glyphosate — has been little short of a miracle chemical for farmers. It kills a broad spectrum of weeds, is easy and safe to work with, and breaks down quickly, reducing its environmental impact.

Note that reference to a miracle. The Times is sneaky that way. Note also, if you actually go and read the article, that the enterprising Times reporters, William Neuman and Andrew Pollock, somehow manage to make it through the entire article without a single mention of the fact that Roundup-resistant seeds have been hugely controversial. Nor do they mention Monsanto's interesting legal strategies to force farmers to stay on the Monsanto dole. They do, however, pass along some interesting and possibly scary statistics, depending on your mood—roundup-resistant crops "account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States."

They also blame it on the farmers, a pretty neat trick when you think about it:

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