Grist’s superweed coverage continues

As an environmentally-conscious student, Grist has recently become one of my favorite online magazines. I’ve been following their coverage of the superweed problem that has resulted from the extensive use of herbicides associated with herbicide-tolerant crops.

In all the hubbub about GMOs, the ecological effects are all too often overlooked in favor of the problems it can cause for human health. The health of the environment is equally important and the evolution of superweeds is an externality of the biotechnology industry that companies like Monsanto and Dow would rather deny, or fight with more of what caused the problem in the first place.

Monsanto strikes again

Monsanto, the biotechnology giant, is often associated with the fact that GMOs don’t cause as much of a stir as they do. One way they do this is by subduing anyone who opposes them. A favorite technique for doing this is to sue, or threaten to. Now they’re at it again. The Organic Consumers Association has reported that the agribusiness giant is now threatening to sue the entire state of Vermont over a proposed bill to label GMOs in the state. Read up on the insanity here.

 

Superweeds

There are many problems with genetically modified foods -from the lack of labelling to the biotech giants who sue farmers for misusing patented creatures -but superweeds are one most people don’t think much about. Weeds are an inevitable part of agriculture. They compete with crop plants for resources like light, water, and nutrients, and too many of them can significantly reduce the viable yields a farmer will take away from their crop. From an agroecological perspective, weeds can merely be managed to make sure there aren’t too many. On small-scale sustainable and organic farms, this often means hand-weeding or some other form of mechanized weeding. Conventional farms, however, prefer to practice the complete eradication of weeds. To achieve this, biotech giants such as Monsanto have created crops that can resist the effects of herbicides. This way, farmers can spray their crops and only kill weeds, not crops. One problem: this evolutionary pressure is creating superweeds that resist the herbicides used against them. Now, farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to get rid of them.

Someone missed the point…

The following blog post typifies one kind of person who supports genetic modification. This is the person who doesn’t understand what GMOs are in the first place, and therefore can’t begin to understand the associated threats.

In this blog post, the author visibly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the difference between GMOs and traditional domestication and gene selection. While genetically modified organisms are, by definition organisms created by intentionally splicing genes together in a laboratory setting, this blogger seems to think that accidental, naturally occurring gene transfer within one species serves as an example of genetic engineering.

Agriculture and ecology

In my time at Unity College, I have become intimately familiar with the idea of ‘agroecology’ as an important factor in keeping agriculture sustainable. The word agroecology is a combination of ‘agriculture’ and ‘ecology’ and the idea comes from the fact that agriculture is, in essence, simply a way to control nature. Naturally-occurring ecosystems are self-sustaining, so why can’t a human-created ecosystem like a farm also be self-sustaining? There are many components that need to be considered when trying to design an agricultural system that will mimic an ecosystem -from nutrient cycling to the interactions with natural species. Conventional agriculture -that which relies heavily on chemical inputs and, more often than not, GMOs -does a pretty poor job of playing nice with natural species that may interact with crops. Agroecology.org is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about agroecology!

The never-ending loop

One of the most popular genetically modified organisms that are used in our food systems today are the Roundup-ready crops offered by Monsanto. Roundup is a glyphosate-based herbicide that allows farmers to control weeds by spraying indiscriminately and killing the weeds and not their genetically-modified resistant crops. Read more on how they work here and listen to how farmers, as well as other businesses, get trapped in a loop of using them here.

Welcome to the blog!

Coming soon:

Information about local, sustainable food production, and the threats to the future of agriculture.