“A fast-spreading plague of “super weeds” taking over U.S. farmland will not be stopped easily, and farmers and government officials need to change existing practices if food production is to be protected…” (Reuters).
The superweed “plague,” which has currently threatened 12 million acres of farmland, was said to be an impossible outcome to Monsanto’s greater plan to genetically engineer (GE) millions of crops that could withstand its glyphosate-based weed-killer Roundup — a product which was marketed as a safe and effective solution to eliminate weeds — or at least that’s what the company told famers who are now dealing with the possibility of losing much of their yields.
Last week, a summit of weed experts convened in Washington, D.C. to discuss the concerning issue of superweeds and, more specifically, how these herbicide-resistant plants are destroying millions of corn and soybean crops across America. Many weeds are now growing up to six feet in height, sharply diminishing crop yields and baffling farmers on how to gain back control of cultivation.
But the greater problem lies in the alternatives being laid out on the table. Many environmental, health, and farm groups are deeply concerned that the USDA will approve an application by Dow Chemical for its controversial “Enlist” GE corn variety that is resistant to the hazardous herbicides 2,4-D and the even more toxic 2,4,5-T formed Agent Orange. The implications of approval could be devastating for crop cultivation as many scientists warn that these new superweeds will continue to become resistant to the most toxic herbicides.
In a recent article on Reuters, Harold Coble, an agromist and weed scientist with the USDA, called the problem of weed resistance a “game changer” and said farmers must become more versatile. “Too many have simply been relying on the chemicals for too long, he said.”
The use of 2,4-D, a drift-prone chemical, has also sparked serious concerns about public health and contamination of crops in surrounding areas. A study by the U.S. National Cancer Institute found that farmers who were exposed to 2,4-D have a greater risk of contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Other studies have shown that 2,4-D has been linked to cell damage, hormonal disruption, reproductive problems and soft-tissue sarcoma.
The good news is that the USDA may be listening to the public’s outcry against the approval of 2,4-D, as it recently extended the public comment period on Dow Chemical’s first Enlist crop up for approval, GE corn. The emergence of the superweed just may be the one factor that convinces the government to reevaluate its policies on quick-solution technologies and start thinking about long-term sustainable methods of farming. Let’s just hope they can change things faster than Mother Nature can.
Photo by: flickr/tjmartinis