Monday, October 10, 2011

The Spread of Roundup Resistant Superweeds

Monsanto's Roundup Ready Soybean Seeds
An article in the Canadian CBC News Friday discussed a growing problem in the United States and Canada - the increasing prevalence of Roundup resistant weed strains, or superweeds.  The plants develop in response to the widespread use of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.  Through natural selection, a strain develops that's resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and as other less resistant strains of the weed are killed off by the herbicide, the superweed takes over.  These weeds can double or triple the costs of weed control and lead to more tillage, more erosion, more water pollution from run-off, increased costs, yield losses and higher food prices.  Some proponents of industrial agriculture point to using other chemicals as the best solution for the problem, arguing that the best way to stay ahead of the resistance curve is to develop new genetically modified crops that are resistant to chemicals other than glyphosate.  Thus, farmers could then spray their fields with a new chemical, killing the superweeds.  The problem with this view, however, is that we then become increasingly dependent on chemicals to produce our crops, and the superweeds become ever stronger as the quality of our food and soil becomes ever weaker.

Chris Willenborg, a weed scientist at the University of Saskatchewan, cautioned, "The solution is not always more and different pesticides."  He suggested using additional methods such as crop rotation and high seeding rates to keep weed populations low and minimize the chance that they become resistant to Roundup.  Natural and organic farming methods are also a way to solve the problem of superweeds without the use of potentially dangerous chemicals and the inevitable weakening of farmland that those chemicals cause.  Switching over from Roundup Ready seed to seed that hasn't been genetically modified, when combined with green methods of crop production, is a way to stay ahead of the so-called resistance curve in a technologically advanced way without having to utilize the chemicals so often associated with "technologically advanced" or "modern" farming.

Check out CBC's article here.

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