Monsanto and rivals creating "superweeds"

WASHINGTON (May 1, 2014) – An animated video released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) illustrates how the agribusiness giant, Monsanto, and its competitors are responsible for the rise of “superweeds” – weeds that have developed resistance to a common herbicide that once kept them in check.

According to a recent UCS policy brief, superweeds are cropping up on more than 60 million acres of U.S. cropland, increasing farmers’ costs and driving an increase in overall herbicide use and the return of more toxic chemicals. The video, “Monsanto Supersizes Farmers' Weed Problem—but Science Can Solve It,” depicts Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seed and herbicide system as a “superhero” with a fatal flaw. Monsanto sold the system as a way to make weed control easier.

Farmers adopted the system enthusiastically, and for a while it did reduced their overall use of herbicides. However, as weeds developed resistance to Roundup weed killer, the false superhero was unmasked. Nationally, weeds began to develop resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, only five years after the Roundup Ready products were introduced in the United States. Resistant weeds can grow eight feet tall and the tough stems damage farm equipment. These weeds also steal nutrients from crops, hurting crop yields and overall productivity.

To tame the out-of-control resistance problem, Monsanto and its competitors are now looking to unveil new seeds engineered to work with older, more toxic herbicides, such as dicamba and 2,4-D. But these new superheroes look a lot like the last one. Increased herbicides use on the new engineered crops will speed up weed resistance, leaving weeds impervious to the most effective herbicides. Farmers need a true superhero, not another shortsighted remedy.

A permanent solution is to encourage the use of healthy farming practices, such as crop rotation and planting cover crops. These techniques could reduce herbicide use by more than 90 percent and help farmers prevent superweeds in the first place.

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The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe and sustainable future. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.