Increasing evidence from the United States indicates that the advent of genetically modified crops has created a new generation of superweeds which are resistant to conventional eradication methods, writes Clive Wakely.
The spread of superweeds which have mutated to develop resistance to popular herbicides, is hardly news, but what is new is that the overall size, strength and proliferation of superweeds is rapidly increasing.
New studies carried out in the United States indicate that farmers are having more trouble than ever dealing with out-of-control superweeds in their fields, some of which are said to grow by as much as three inches a day and are so strong as to be capable of damaging heavy farm equipment.
According to reports there are currently over twenty different weed species known to be resistant to glyphosate based herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup product.
These species include common plants such as ragweed, pigweed, horseweed, waterhemp, and ryegrass.
According to monitors the total acreage of farmland diagnosed as being infested in the US with superweeds has leaped from 2.4 million acres to 11 million acres in the last four years alone.
The problem is also said to be getting exponentially worse.
Observers claim that some super-strains of weed, such as fast growing pigweed, can be tough enough to damage farm machinery — making it increasingly difficult for farmers to eradicate them using brute force.
It has also emerged that some farmers are resorting to alternative forms of control including the use of dangerous herbicide and pesticide combinations, which undermine many of the supposed environmental benefits that biotech crops are supposed to offer.
Yet for years the US biotech giant Monsanto has denied, at least in part, that superweeds are an unforeseen consequence of the use of their Roundup product.
Currently, although the corporation admits that Roundup may actually be the leading factor in the creation of superweeds, it also stresses that herbicide resistance is not just limited to the use of its glyphosate-based products.
Genetically modified (GM) crops, which are the primary target of herbicide applications like Roundup, are currently planted in roughly 200,000 square miles of US farmland. Their very existence requires repeated applications of herbicide and pesticide “combos”, including Roundup.
But the evidence proves that some of the superweed species that have developed resistance to Roundup, but which used to respond to other herbicide formulations, have now developed resistance to these alternative eradication methods as well.
One agricultural report in a Mid West newspaper explained that farmers are quickly running out of options for controlling the superweed problem, as many superweeds are now resistant to a whole raft of control products.
Many farmers are becoming desperate with a situation that sees superweed infestation increasing and their options for eradication decreasing.
Reports also explain some of the methods farmers are employing to get rid of these monstrous weeds, which includes using dangerous cocktails of herbicides and pesticides, and even hacking then out by hand; some of the weeds having stems up to four inches thick.
A spokesman for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is quoted as explaining: “It’s rather ironic that we were sold glyphosate as an alternative to these older pesticides, and now farmers are using them again . . . . but that’s part of the pattern of the pesticide industry.”
Yet experimenting with various combinations of pesticides and herbicides is not only a potentially dangerous exercise, but one that is probably doomed to failure in the longer term, as weed species acquire immunity to these as well.
Many observers fear that no matter how many chemical applications conventional and GM crop farmers apply, superweeds will just continue to get stronger, bigger and more pervasive.
An even greater fear is that as these weeds spread they run the very real risk of passing resistant genes to other plant species as well.
As an agricultural scientist at the University of Missouri recently pointed out: “Pollen can transfer the resistant trait; that’s the problem …. there’s not much we can do about pollen flying through the air, and that’s why we see such rapid spread of resistance.”
Yet despite mounting concern over the use of biotech products in US farming the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to allow the introduction of new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) such as alfalfa and sugar beet, because it allegedly does not view GMOs any differently to conventional crops.
Some believe the apparent apathy may not be unconnected with the substantial political clout the US biotech industry wields in the corridors of power in Washington.
It has been said, and may be absolutely true, that the only way to get rid of superweeds (that is assuming that it isn’t already too late) is to end the cultivation of GM crops for good.
Of even greater concern than the emergence of superweeds is, that which currently remains unknown; that is, what other side effects of the use of GMOs are waiting to manifest themselves in the medium to longer term?
This is not just a valid question in the light of a whole string of unintended consequences arising from the introduction of this technology; it is a question of such importance that it cannot be ignored.
If the global biotech industry is unable or unwilling to explain why it is that some of their products have developed side effects, having previously assured us that “such things can’t happen” and that their products are entirely safe – then why, oh why, are we allowing them to use us as guinea pigs and our farmland as test laboratories?