Promoting Pesticide Resistance
Monsanto's RoundupReady and Bt technologies lead to resistant weeds and insects that can make farming harder and reduce sustainability.
But there's a catch.
Enter the Superweeds
Beginning around 2000, weeds growing in Roundup Ready crops began to develop resistance to Roundup (glyphosate), the Monsanto herbicide that Roundup Ready crops are genetically engineered to tolerate. By 2011, eight agriculturally important weeds in the U.S. had developed glyphosate resistance associated with Roundup Ready crops.
Glyphosate-resistant weeds now infest millions of acres of U.S. cropland—and this area has been growing rapidly over the past several years. Countries where Roundup Ready crops were more recently introduced are now beginning to see similar growth in resistant weeds.
These "superweeds" are causing huge problems for U.S. farmers, especially in the Southeast (but also spreading in the Midwest), where some of these weeds cannot be effectively or economically controlled. The impact on cotton production has led one scientist to compare a glyphosate-resistant weed to the notorious boll weevil, which devastated cotton production across the American South in the 1920s.
In response, farmers are increasing their overall herbicide use (see #2) and in some cases, returning to heavy tillage (plowing), which can increase soil erosion—thus reducing two of the sustainability benefits claimed for the Roundup Ready system.
Making Matters Worse
Why is this problem growing so fast? Because the Roundup Ready system encourages unprecedented reliance on a single herbicide—which, as biologists know, is likely to make resistance problems more severe. Pest resistance is not a new problem, but Roundup Ready technology has made it worse than before.
And Monsanto exacerbated the problem by discouraging farmers from employing typical resistance management approaches, such as alternating the types of herbicides used over time—which would have reduced the amount of Roundup used in any given year, and thus cut into the company's bottom line. This led a group of academic weed scientists to publicly contradict Monsanto's recommendations and reiterate scientifically-based methods for reducing the resistant weed problem.
Adding insult to injury, Monsanto representatives were described in a 2009 ABC News story as blaming farmers for overuse-related resistance problems.
Sacrificing Sustainability for Sales
Monsanto's pronouncements and recommendations about its engineered crops and glyphosate herbicide fly in the face of established science and common-sense precautions. Its actions have undermined the goal of weed control and jeopardized long-term use of glyphosate—a less toxic, less persistent, and more effective herbicide than most others—in favor of the company's annual bottom line. This is the opposite of good stewardship and sustainable practices. Monsanto's denialism and inadequate responses are likely to contribute to greater environmental harm.