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Pesticide-Resistant Weeds Plague U.S. Farms – Is Canada Next?

April 22, 2009

Those who have been sounding the alarm about the risks of growing more and more genetically-modified, pesticide-resistant crops in Canada and the U.S. appear to have been vindicated:

‘Superweed’ explosion threatens Monsanto heartlands

… In late 2004, “superweeds” that resisted Monsanto’s iconic “Roundup” herbicide, popped up in GM crops in the county of Macon, Georgia. Monsanto, the US multinational biotech corporation, is the world’s leading producer of Roundup, as well as genetically engineered seeds. Company figures show that nine out of 10 US farmers produce Roundup Ready seeds for their soybean crops.

Superweeds have since alarmingly appeared in other parts of Georgia, as well as South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, according to media reports. Roundup contains the active ingredient glyphosate, which is the most used herbicide in the USA.

According to the article, some farmers have resorted hand-weeding, some have gone back to conventional, non-GM varieties – and some have abandoned their fields altogether. 100,000 acres in Georgia are now infested, and some 10,000 acres have been abandoned in Macon County alone.

A related problem has arisen in India, where farmers were convinced of the benefits of planting Monsanto’s weevil-resistant Bt cotton, only to discover that the plants were even more vulnerable to drought and to other insect infestations than conventional varieties. Many believe that crop failures coupled with crippling debt from having to purchase the expensive GM seed every year have led to a rash of farmer suicides.

Of all the nightmare scenarios surrounding the use of GM crops, the rise of resistant pests and ‘superweeds’ has always been among the most plausible and the most terrifying – especially given the increasing pervasiveness such crops. While Canadian farmers are still catching up with the U.S., herbicide resistant GM crops currently account for 65% of both our soy and corn crops and a stunning 90-95% of our Canola. Wheat has so far escaped being replaced by GM varieties, largely due to resistance from the Wheat Board and concerns about marketing our wheat to the EU, where GM foods are much more difficult to sell.

I got to fly out west for the first time last summer, and I remember being delighted by the sight of thousands of acres of bright gold Canola checkerboarded among the more familiar wheat fields all across Saskatchewan. The thought of those fields being overrun by superweeds fills me with dread.

canola2

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. jacopopasotti permalink
    August 7, 2010 12:11 pm

    Hi there, I am a journalist from Italy. I am writing a short report on transgenic canola fields, for an on-line news in italy. May I use the pic in this post? Thanks, Jacopo (see me in scienzaemontagna.wordpress.com)

  2. marakardasnelson permalink*
    April 27, 2009 4:37 am

    Interesting post. I briefly worked at the Liu Institute for the Study of Global Issues at UBC last year, and had the opportunity to meet several of Canada’s leading scientists working on the issue of GM substances. I find the topic fascinating, in an almost surreal, sci-fi film sort of way. I agree with Jon that a reversion back to non GM techniques could, in theory, actually prove to be quite fruitful: the organic environmentalist in me cringes at the thought of so much of our food being genetically modified. But in reality much of the food that we do eat and that is consumed around the world is genetically modified, and this happens for a reason: food demands are so high that producing crops in older, more conventional ways won’t always produce enough to meet the demand. With the way that the world currently consumes, we have become dependent on GM crops. The question is, therefore, how do we change the way that we live, and the way that we consume? While I am party to 100 mile diets and organic food movements these ideas aren’t necessarily feasible for everyone in the world to take on at this moment. Changing the world’s habits from dependence on GM crops back to organic, natural techniques will take time, and until we get there, the threat of a pesticide-resistant weed may actually heavily impact food production worldwide.

    • April 27, 2009 11:11 am

      I wish I could find the source now (‘The End of Food’ maybe?), but I read recently that traditional agriculture (small farms, crop rotation, etc.) actually produces MORE food per acre than mechanized, monoculture factory farming. It’s just that traditional agriculture is more labour intensive. The cost balance of labour vs. input costs depends on where on the planet you’re talking about, but in most of the third world farm hands are cheaper than, say, GM seed or pesticides.

      But yes, change will come hard. We’ve dug ourselves pretty deep into this particular hole.

  3. canworldjon permalink*
    April 24, 2009 3:58 pm

    That’s a lovely picture, Jenny. Thanks for posting. Though the idea of farmers abandoning their farm fields entirely is a sad thought, I like the idea of the return to basic, albeit ancient, forms: conventional seeding, soil turning, hand weeding. Interestingly, if tides turn against GM foods, returning to fundamentals may be the best means to be competitive again.

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