What are superweeds, and why are they a problem? Read part one here, which outlines the need for weed control in agriculture and the rise of GMOs that promised to help farmers in their battle against weeds—but instead began the disturbing rise of weeds that resist herbicides and pose new problems to farmers and the environment.
A crisis caused by dangerous dependence
Having converted farmers to large-scale monoculture fields full of genetically modified Roundup resistant crops under the promise of easy weed control, Monsanto now had control over a huge percentage of American farmers—and a growing number across the world as well.
These farms were now dependent on Monsanto’s products, first on the modified seeds that promised greater yield, and then on the chemicals that must be used to grow the seeds. Farming methods were adjusted to meet the needs of GMO crops, and families depended on these new methods for their livelihood.
These farms depended on Monsanto’s products working as they’d been told they would. Instead, farmers had vast fields planted with crops that resisted Roundup so that weeds could be easily killed—but now the weeds were surviving the recommended doses of herbicide and killing the soy, corn or cotton.
In order to keep the yields needed to survive, it became necessary to apply more and more of the chemicals to their fields. Weeds didn’t respond to a normal amount of Roundup, so much more had to be purchased and applied to crops in amounts that increased as the weeds adjusted and became even more resistant. Now, genetically modified crops that were supposed to require less pesticide to grow were requiring more instead—much more.
Increased pesticide, increased labor
Before long, farmers were seeing weeds that could not be controlled by pesticides alone. With no other options, many have had to return to old methods of tilling the soil before planting, destroying weeds and mixing herbicides into the ground in a quest to control the increasingly aggressive invaders.
In some cases, farmers have had to resort to hand-weeding crops that are infested with resistant weeds—which can grow to sizes that destroy farm equipment, making harvest impossible.
Now, in addition to increased use of pesticides, farmers are being forced to return to the labor-intensive and environmentally damaging methods that they were trying to avoid using in the first place.
Monsanto’s expensive genetically modified seed does not resist other herbicides, so Roundup is being purchased and used in amounts much greater than originally intended. This is a threat to both the environment and human health that has happened slowly and been kept quiet, while Monsanto continues to make claims that its products reduce pesticides and increase yields.
The perfect storm
In essence, Monsanto has grown rich selling a product with promises that couldn’t be kept. These products created a toxic dependence on the company’s seed and chemicals that will continue to keep farmers scrambling to stay afloat, while Monsanto continues to benefit financially from the increased sale of chemical pesticides needed to keep the new “superweeds” at bay.
In the meantime, new superweed species continue to be discovered in areas where GMOs are grown. In maps that show the prevalence of superweeds, it is clear that GMOs are the reason for the boom in superweeds—look at the difference between the US (largest user of GMOs, 161 species of resistant weeds) and Russia (GMOs banned, 1 species).
Concern for the future
The new resistant weeds don’t stay in fields that use GMOs. They spread to organic farms, to meadows, pastures and backyards indiscriminately. Nature will do its best to adjust to the unnatural manipulation of genetically modified crops, and then it will do what it always does—reproduce and spread.
There is no reason why the continued use of GMOs and Roundup will not keep producing new superweeds. There is no reason why farmers who use GMOs will not continue to have to find more expensive, labor-intensive ways to fight these weeds. There is no reason why increased use of pesticides will not continue to damage the environment and cause serious health issues in those who consume GMO products.
If things don’t change, Monsanto’s products will simply continue to break their promise to help farmers while increasing the use of toxic pesticides and the growth of damaging superweeds. We need to take action, or the problems we are seeing today will be much worse for future generations.