The Des Moines Register deserves a hearty thank you for Donnelle Eller's eye-opening Sunday article on glysophate-resistant Superweeds. It details a real threat to Iowa agriculture and raises important questions about responsibility and the way forward.
Some may believe it too soon or even unhelpful to consider how this happened and who bears responsibility for getting us into this mess. But if we fail to consider these questions, don't we risk the likelihood our "solutions" will simply repeat our mistakes?
For over 20 years the farm chemical industry, led by Monsanto, has proclaimed the unquestioned benefits of genetically modifying seeds, and farmers gladly got on the GMO bandwagon as we raced to a golden era of high-tech agriculture. Claims of enhanced yields and one-pass weed control were hard to resist — especially as the seed industry bred resistance to Roundup, or glysophate, into every crop and variety possible.
Truthfully, though, herbicide resistance is not inherently yield enhancing — not like the hybridizing work of Henry Wallace or any seed breeder who helps plants put more beans in the pod. What we created is simply a weed control system the main effects of which are to sell more Roundup and expensive modified seeds and allow farmers to cover more acres.
Of course there are — or were — benefits like cleaner fields and less weed pressure to suppress yields. But as "Superweeds" illustrate so well — even for non-believers in evolution — nature works around the clock and is eroding the benefits of GMOs. This is not a surprise.
Anyone who thought about it predicted what widespread and unrestrained planting of herbicide-resistant seeds and the increased use of glysophate would yield — selecting for tougher, more resistant weeds, difficult if not impossible to control. Exactly what we have today and what every scientist quoted knew and said would happen.