To quote the movie Jurassic Park, “Nature finds a way.” In this case, according to a ground-breaking story in the New York Times, is the ability of weeds to circumvent the super weedkiller Roundup:
Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of new superweeds.
[Source: New York Times]
In what is sure to become a cause célèbre for the anti-gene modification people, the developing threat to American (and presumably world) agricultural production is the rise of weeds (at least ten species found so far in the United States) that are resistant to the universally applied Roundup (Monsanto) weedkiller.
The champion superweed, at this point, is Palmer amaranth – a.k.a. pigweed – that can grow three inches (8 cm) a day and up to seven feet (2.13 m) tall. It’s nasty, from an agricultural point of view. When it becomes established, it can choke not only the crops but the harvest machinery.
The presence of the superweeds, which really means they’re normal weeds except with Roundup, is that farmers must resort to much more expensive means to rid their fields of the weeds. Plowing, cultivating, hand weeding, and the use of more toxic herbicides are all part of the counter-measures. More expensive food will be the end result.
Perhaps more important in the long-run will be the damage to the concept promoted by Monsanto of ridding the world’s agriculture of inefficient or toxic weed killing through the genetic modification of plants. It was a controversial concept from the beginning but it was eventually widely accepted. From 1990 to 2000 Roundup weedkiller and Roundup-safe seeds were adopted for about 90% of the American soybean crop and 70% of the corn and cotton crops. The first Roundup resistant weeds appeared around 2000. It is now, to quote the Times article and Mike Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward.”
The use of Roundup and the potential damage to agriculture is so widespread, that many farmers’ voices have been raised, in effect, to say that Roundup is too big to fail.