US 'superweeds' epidemic shines spotlight on GMOs

Jan 13, 2014 by Veronique Dupont
The United States is facing an epidemic of herbicide-resistant "superweeds" that some activists and researchers are blaming on GMOs, an accusation rejected by industry giants

The United States is facing an epidemic of herbicide-resistant "superweeds" that some activists and researchers are blaming on GMOs, an accusation rejected by industry giants.

According to a recent study, the situation is such that American farmers are "heading for a crisis."

Many scientists blame overuse of herbicides, prompted by seeds genetically modified to resist them.

"In parts of the country, weeds resistant to the world's most popular herbicide, glyphosate, now grow in the vast majority of soybean, cotton, and corn fields," many of which were planted with seeds resistant to the weedkiller, said the study published in the journal Science in September.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it was considering the release of new genetically-engineered seeds that are resistant to multiple herbicides.

But "weeds that can shrug off multiple other herbicides are also on the rise," the study said.

Nearly half (49 percent) of all US farmers said they had "glyphosate resistant weeds" on their farms in 2012, according to the most recent review from agri-business market research firm Stratus.

That's up from 34 percent of farmers in 2011.

Glyphosate is the name of the most frequently used herbicide in the United States and was created by agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto in the 1970s.

Today, the US company markets it as Roundup while, among other versions, competitor Dow Chemical sells a similar product under the name Durango.

Monsanto also launched the first genetically modified seeds that tolerate glyphosate in 1996 and, in its earnings call this past week, mentioned the issue of weed resistance.

Still, the industry refuses to accept any responsibility for the "superweed" phenomenon.

"Herbicide-resistant weeds began well before GM crops," said a Monsanto spokeswoman.

A USDA spokesman told AFP the phenomenon has "been going on for decades, and has happened subsequent to the development of herbicides."

"It happens naturally with all herbicide modes of action. The plants select for resistance over time," he said.

But Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety, an anti-GMO non-profit, said "GE crops greatly speeded up" the issue.

That's a view shared by researchers such as Charles Benbrook of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.

Heavier doses of herbicides were used on fields that now harbor glyphosate-resistant weed, he noted.

A study published on the website of Pioneer, DuPont's GE seed unit, found that "glyphosate had been used for over 20 years prior to the introduction of glyphosate-resistant crops without any resistance issues."

But eventually, resistant weeds developed—"first in areas where glyphosate had been applied multiple times per season for many years," the study said.

Vicious Circle

The USDA, backed up by researchers, emphasizes that as such are not the source of "superweeds."

Instead, they blame "weed management tactics chosen by farmers" who have in large numbers adopted seeds alongside glyphosate marketed by Monsanto and its competitors.

A spokesman for Dow Chemical said "the problem is that past herbicide-tolerant cropping systems led to overuse of glyphosate, because growers saw no other strategy offering them comparable value."

Benbrook described a vicious cycle, saying " have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on genetically-engineered crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent."

"Many experts in the US are projecting that the approval of new multiple herbicide tolerant crops will lead to at least a 50 percent increase to the average application of herbicide," he added.

Earlier this month, the USDA announced that, at the request of Dow Chemical, it would study allowing genetically engineered seeds on the market that can tolerate several at once—including a controversial weed killer 2,4-D that several scientific studies have blamed for cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease.

Explore further: US government might deregulate corn, soybean seeds

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alfie_null
4.5 / 5 (8) Jan 13, 2014
Still, the industry refuses to accept any responsibility for the "superweed" phenomenon.

We just manufacture these herbicides. You farmers don't have to use them.

. . . tolerate several herbicides at once—including a controversial weed killer 2,4-D that several scientific studies have blamed for cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis . . .

I suppose we'll be reassured that there's no chance any of this will work its way into our food chain
Sinister1812
3 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2014
There will be an increase in insects, pests and weeds who are resistant to poisons in the future. Simple evolution at work. That's why they should change the ingredients, or combine them.
Egleton
4.3 / 5 (12) Jan 13, 2014
Dont make the food plants chemicaly dependent. Make them more competitive with weeds.
How about a perennial wheat with nitrogen fixing capacity?
Oh. Silly me! No profit. The companies need to sell chemicals to make a profit for the shareholders.
Capitalism sucks.
Returners
5 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2014
There will be an increase in insects, pests and weeds who are resistant to poisons in the future. Simple evolution at work. That's why they should change the ingredients, or combine them.


They already do that, but unfortunately the bozos used 2 different versions of botulinum, instead of using 2 completely different toxins, which in my view defeats the whole concept of the "multi-killing" strategy.

An effective multi-killing strategy would use 2 toxins which are entirely different from one another, preferably even using different modes of attack on the problematic organism, whether it be an insect or a plant.

For example, for an herbicide, one toxin might attack the roots, another attacks the leaves, and another might attack the seeds' development.

For an insecticide one might attack the nervous system while another attacks the digestive system, etc. Currently, this is not done. They just use two slightly different nerve agents.
Returners
2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 13, 2014
Oh. Silly me! No profit. The companies need to sell chemicals to make a profit for the shareholders.
Capitalism sucks.


Exactly.

In capitalism it always reaches a point where the company only solves people's problems by creating yet another problem, making the people more reliant on the company.

Observer medicines:

They have a list of side-effects a mile long. The strategy is to "treat" one illness, but also make you sick in another way in the process. This way you end up going back the doctor and the pharmacy again. Your prescription causes you to have an upset stomache, so now you always have to take digestive medicines. Another causes a build-up of triglycerides so you have to take a statin to prevent a heart attack.

Capitalism kills.
antialias_physorg
3.9 / 5 (7) Jan 13, 2014
Coupled with the (now verified) conspiracy of corporate-government influence of the GMO lobby as exposed by wikileaks:
http://www.dailym...ood.html
...it looks like GMOs never were anything but a corporate ploy to wage a food war against the world.
mzso
1 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2014
So all in all American farmers are idiots.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2014
So all in all American farmers are idiots.

I wouldn't go that far, as they have been püressured by all sides into using this stuff, to the point of being sued if they don't and some individual seeds are carried to their fields by wind/animals.

Monsanto certainly would like to make it look like the farmers are the culprits. But with a marketing approach of "Use our GMOs or else - and here's our weedkiller especially designed for them, so use that, too!"
I don't see how they can make such an accusation stick.

...unless their lobbyyists again tell their puppets to go interpret laws that way (or just make up some new ones)
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 13, 2014
So all in all American farmers are idiots.

I wouldn't go that far, as they have been püressured by all sides into using this stuff, to the point of being sued if they don't and some individual seeds are carried to their fields by wind/animals.

Monsanto certainly would like to make it look like the farmers are the culprits. But with a marketing approach of "Use our GMOs or else - and here's our weedkiller especially designed for them, so use that, too!"
I don't see how they can make such an accusation stick.

...unless their lobbyyists again tell their puppets to go interpret laws that way (or just make up some new ones)
rkolter
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2014
The article pretty well nailed it on the head. The process of becoming immune to herbicides was not changed - it's what happens naturally. But the application of large quantities of a specific herbicide made an environment lethal too all weeds but those that had genes for resistance, speeding up this process dramatically. Pretty much what everyone knew was going to happen... where is the story?
Osteta
Jan 13, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Returners
2 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2014
The problem is in usage of GMO, which accelerates the adaptation of weeds to the herbicides by horizontal gene transfers and crosspolination, etc.


I think this is correct, because the gene is usually inserted into the organism in the form of an artificial loop of "extrachromosomal DNA, which can replicate much more quickly than Chromosomal DNA. I don't know, but I think the original genes came from Chromosomal DNA, but I do know they are inserted as a loop, and may contain other genes used as markers or triggers for the interactions or replication.

What this means to me is that it would be much easier and more likely for this artificial gene to be transferred to another organism, such as a bacterium or virus, than if it were attached as part of a full Chromosome.

All it takes is for a bacterium to "eat" one of these engineered cells, and if so much as one of these artificial loops of DNA survives, then viola, the next generation of the bacterium has the gene too...
Osteta
Jan 13, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Returners
1 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2014
Amitedly, it is a bit harder to explain how the gene could go from a Bacterium to the germ cells of another plant species, but perhaps a virus or prion is involved.

It might somehow go from the Pollen to the other plant species, but that seems unlikely because they should be genetically incompatible, unless the second plant species' germ cells somehow do endocytosis on the actual strip of DNA, which we assume it somehow got outside the original cell (osmotic shock destroying the original cell, for example).

While either of these pathways seems absurdly complicated, I guess it could happen if you have enough of these engineered crops, because we grow these plants by the trillions each year.

Oh yeah, the modified piece of pollen must also be lucky enough to land on and fertilize another plant of it's own species, which then must survive till the seeds grow for next generation.

A couple trillion chances per year just might well allow this to happen over a period of a decade or two.
krundoloss
5 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2014
Capitalism is at fault here. When you create a world in which the only way to survive is to be profitable, then you have these situations. Can a farmer choose not to use herbicide? Not if he wants to sell any product. Will the chemical company come up with a solution that doesn't require them to sell more chemicals? Not if they want to sell their product.

Capitalism has the power to reduce all of our aspirations into a drive for money and money alone. Its not about helping people, or feeding people, or healing people, its about making money. That is the only thing a publicly held company can stand for is MONEY. It will make slaves of us all.
Nestle
not rated yet Jan 13, 2014
Well, we should learn, how to balance the socialism and capitalism, the macroeconomic and microeconomic control of the society. But how to apply it to the GMO case - this is the question... Should we ban or tax the GMO seeds and products? Or should we rather ban the usage of glyphosate as such? The power of human civilization is in ability to apply its products irregularly, so that the organisms (which mostly depend on regular genetic cycle) cannot adopt to it. In hospitals the disinfection agents can be alternated, so that the germs cannot gain the resistance for it. What we need by now is the effective Roundup substitute.
krundoloss
not rated yet Jan 13, 2014
I like several of the ideas put forth here:
-Combine pesticides and herbicides
-Alternate pesticides and herbicides
-Limit the use of these to prevent rapid adaptation by organisms
Returners
not rated yet Jan 13, 2014
I like several of the ideas put forth here:
-Combine pesticides and herbicides
-Alternate pesticides and herbicides
-Limit the use of these to prevent rapid adaptation by organisms


As I mentioned, they are already doing that, they just do it wrong.

Alternating actually doesn't work at all.

You need to hit the pest/pathogen with two unrelated methods of killing, so that whichever ones are immune to the first won't be immune to the second, and vice-versa. If you alternate, then you accomplish little.

Alternating would be like if two guys fire guns at the same enemy at different times. He may be lucky and dodge the bullets.

Correct multi-killing would be akin to throwing a nerve agent into a fox hole, and then shooting any escaping enemies as they climb out.

Alternating would be akin to throwing the bomb in there, and just leaving, and then coming back a week later to shoot at people. Well obviously anyone who survived the gas has left the scene and changed tactics by now...
Returners
1 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2014
There is a way to test the theory that the immunity is horizontal gene transfer, and I mean besides just checking the DNA blueprints of those weeds to see if they picked up the gene.

Engineer a corn strain which has a different color seed or leaf, produced by having a gene which codes for a different color, for example the lavender color of some flowers.

Grow the experimental crop inside a air-tight greenhouse to avoid pollen contamination with outside crops. Add weeds of all the varieties found in a typical farm, and don't spray any weed killers at all. The second group uses the same strains, but also uses weed killers, which is a control. Of course, you need a second control, which is all-natural corn and all-natural weeds.

What we want to see, in order to prove horizontal gene transfer, is that after a few years worth of planting and such, some of the weeds from the experimental group should pick up the lavender pigment and alter the color of one or more structures.
Returners
1 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2014
The controls are so you can establish the probability of a random lavender gene appearing in an all-natural sample and the herbicide resistant GM sample with weed killer. These probabilities should be zero or near-zero.

After a few years of re-planting the offspring from each group, if gene transfer is happening, the Lavender gene group's weeds should start to exhibit lavender genes much more often than anything from the two control groups.
Nestle
not rated yet Jan 13, 2014
There is a way to test the theory that the immunity is horizontal gene transfer
It's not a theory as we already know, that aphids and bacterial infections contribute to the evolution of glyphosate-resistant 'Superweeds'. In sterile cultures the gene transfer doesn't happen.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 13, 2014
Capitalism is at fault here. When you create a world in which the only way to survive is to be profitable, then you have these situations. Can a farmer choose not to use herbicide? Not if he wants to sell any product. Will the chemical company come up with a solution that doesn't require them to sell more chemicals? Not if they want to sell their product.

Capitalism has the power to reduce all of our aspirations into a drive for money and money alone. Its not about helping people, or feeding people, or healing people, its about making money. That is the only thing a publicly held company can stand for is MONEY. It will make slaves of us all.

TO answer your last sentence - it already has...
geokstr
1 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2014
Capitalism sucks.


Yeah, socialism is so much better, because under socialism we can get lots more free stuff paid for by like, you know, people that have jobs and stuff.
Zera
not rated yet Jan 13, 2014
I know it's unrelated... but hehe SuperWeed... here to save the day, weed resistant, nutritious... yummy good for you. :)

Good to make clothes and paper, and concrete and rope...

Not a genetic structure Industry can patent...

Do i need to say more?
Zera
1 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2014
I know it's unrelated... but hehe SuperWeed... here to save the day, weed resistant, nutritious... yummy good for you. :)

Good to make clothes and paper, and concrete and rope...

Not a genetic structure Industry can patent...

Do i need to say more?

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