GM crops have spread weed resistance problems fast in the US, massively increasing farmers' costs.

The second item below shows how Monsanto promoted GM Roundup Ready (RR) crops to farmers as virtually fool proof just as long as you kept applying plenty of Roundup.

As Bob Hartzler, an extension weed management specialist in the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University noted a full decade ago, "I will give Monsanto credit for maintaining a consistent message. In a 1995 paper released prior to introduction of Roundup Ready crops, Monsanto scientists stated: 'Furthermore, the complex genetic transformations which were required for the development of glyphosate-tolerant crops would be unlikely to be duplicated in nature to yield glyphosate-resistant weeds.'" (item 2)

A decade later with glyphosate-resistant weeds galloping across US farmland, Monsanto and its apologists are now putting the blame for the problem onto farmers!

Monsanto meanwhile has gone from advising farmers to just apply Roundup to the max to recommending they purchase still more expensive GM seeds that are resistant to more than one herbicide in the hope of killing the resistant weeds through using more than one mode of toxic action. But not only is this strategy bad news for farmers, farm workers, consumers, and the environment, but experts are already predicting that it will not provide a lasting solution to weed resistance anyway, while pushing farmers still further onto the toxics-GM treadmill.

1.The Cost of RR Technology Failure Clear, No Relief in Sight
2.What, Me Worry?
1.The Cost of RR Technology Failure Clear, No Relief in Sight
GM Freeze, 25 September 2013

Delegates at the American Chemical Society’s (ACS’s) 246th national meeting, held in the heart of US corn country, heard dire warnings from weed scientists about the spread of glyphosate resistant weeds and the growing number of weed species with resistance to as many as five different weedkillers. [1]

The costs of controlling weeds in Roundup Ready (RR) GM soya have seen a six-fold rise since glyphosate resistant weeds first appeared in the middle of the last decade, and GM RR cotton has seen a five-fold rise in weed control costs in recent years.

The extent of the weed control problems farmers now face growing Monsanto’s GM RR crops is clear: [all at 2]

*The University of Missouri found that nearly two-thirds of waterhemp (Amaranthus rudis) plants sampled in Iowa in 2011/12 were resistant to glyphosate. The University of Iowa found that 89% of waterhemp samples are resistant to two or more weedkillers, and 10% are resistant to five different classes of herbicide

*The University of Arkansas found weed control costs in RR cotton in the US South rose from US$50-75/hectare a few years ago to US$370/hectare today because of weed resistance to glyphosate

*Southern Illinois University found that the cost of growing RR soya in Illinois rose from US$25/hectare to US$160/hectare

*Farmers in the US cotton belt are responding to the crisis by pulling out of cotton production altogether: “[O]ver the past few years, the area planted with cotton has declined by 70% in Arkansas and by 60% in Tennessee.”

Options for finding new chemical herbicides to combat glyposate resistance are limited. Science magazine reports, “[N]o new herbicide with a novel mode of action has hit the market in 20 years…[R]esearchers at the [ACS] meeting say they know of no new herbicides on the way that have proven to be effective, short-lived, and non-toxic to other life forms.” [2]

The biotech industry’s solution is to use more glyphosate in combination or rotation with four other herbicides that GM crops have been modified to tolerate (ie, 2,4-D, dicamba, glufosinate ammonium and isoxaflutole). All four chemicals already have weed resistance problems in the US, [3 and 4] and industry advice also contributes to the steep escalation in the use of soil-acting residual weedkillers. [2 and 5]

Lincolnshire farmer Peter Lundgren commented:

“This information is not what farmers want to hear. Glyphosate is widely used by arable farmers in the UK, but if Roundup Ready crops are adopted in this country it could mean resistant weeds quickly develop and spread to neighbouring farms. The nightmare scenario would be the development of glyphosate resistant Black Grass.

“Knowing this, it is amazing that the hierarchy of the NFU is still enthusiastically promoting GM technology. It is even more strange given the lack of markets for any GM food crops in Europe.”

Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

“The gathering of weed scientists in the US sent out a very clear message that over-reliance on glyphosate in GM crops is causing weed resistance problems to spread fast. Current alternatives are already undermined by their own resistance problems, and UK farmers should note the lack of new chemicals in the pipeline that can safely control any of these weeds.

“Government Ministers’, including Owen Paterson’s, unequivocal support for GM crops seems all the more bizarre in the light of the information coming from the US.”

Calls to:
Pete Riley 07903 341 065
Peter Lundgren 07751 112 303

[1] American Chemical Society, 8-12 September 2013. Chemistry in Motion meeting session “Herbicide-Resistant Crops and Weeds: Current Status”
[2] Science, 20 September 2013. “What happens when weedkillers stop killing?”
[3] GM Freeze and PAN UK, 2 August 2013. GM Herbcide Tolerant Crops: Less equals more
[4] Heap I, 2013. “The International Survey of Herbicide Resisant Weeds”
[5] GM Freeze and PAN UK, 21 June 2013. The Herbicide Treadmill in Roundup Ready Crops – EU environment faces huge increase in toxic burden
2.What, Me Worry?[1]
Bob Hartzler
Iowa State University, May 1 2003 (Revised May 8)

Monsanto recently mailed a flyer to dealers/farmers that outlines Monsanto's perspective on glyphosate resistance. The title of the flyer is "MANAGING WEED RESISTANCE", but rather than seriously addressing the problem of herbicide resistance the literature reflects Alfred E. Neuman's philosophy on life: "What, Me Worry?". The bulletin emphasizes the well documented fact that the potential for glyphosate resistance is less than that of other herbicides, stating that only two weed species have developed resistance to glyphosate in the U.S. after 28 years of commercial use. Because of these facts, Monsanto suggests that farmers need not consider resistance in developing weed management programs. The bulletin implies that as long as full rates of Roundup are used, resistance will not be an issue ("Dead weeds don't produce seeds").

The fact that the potential for resistance to glyphosate is considerably less than that of most herbicides is well substantiated. However, in the past seven years glyphosate-resistant biotypes have been confirmed in four weed species. These biotypes occur in at least seven U.S. states and in five countries.

I will give Monsanto credit for maintaining a consistent message. In a 1995 paper released prior to introduction of Roundup Ready crops, Monsanto scientists stated: "Furthermore, the complex genetic transformations which were required for the development of glyphosate-tolerant crops would be unlikely to be duplicated in nature to yield glyphosate-resistant weeds" (Bradshaw et al. 1995). We now have ample evidence that nature indeed can duplicate the efforts of Monsanto's scientists, and thus it seems a change in philosophy toward resistance management is warranted.

While the bulletin doesn't come straight out and recommend planting continuous Roundup Ready crops (e.g. RR soybeans followed by RR corn), this is strongly implied as a sound management decision. A testimonial by a northern Iowa farmer states that five years of continuous RR crops have not led to any problems with weed escapes or resistance. Monsanto provides data indicating an economic advantage to RR crops, and suggests a farmer would reduce net returns by planting non-RR crops in order to prevent something that may or may not occur.

In addition, the bulletin states that resistance is 'easily and economically managed'. While it is true that we have numerous herbicide alternatives in corn and soybean to help manage resistant weeds, I think this attitude towards resistance is misguided. I'm sure many farmers in southern Iowa would state that controlling ALS-resistant waterhemp prior to the introduction of RR soybeans was far from easy and economical, and I knew many Pennsylvania farmers who felt the same way about triazine-resistant pigweed and lambsquarter in the 1980's. When glyphosate resistance develops in Iowa, there will be a real cost to those growers who must deal with glyphosate-resistant biotypes.

Although glyphosate has been marketed for 28 years in Iowa, it is important to remember that Iowa farmers have only used it in a manner that places significant selection pressure on our major weeds since the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996. Almost all weed scientists agree that the evolution of resistant biotypes is inevitable with the current use pattern of glyphosate. Increased adoption of rotations relying solely on RR crops will greatly enhance the rate that resistance evolves. Because of this, we feel it is best to develop long-term weed management plans that reduce the selection pressure placed on weeds by any single herbicide, including Roundup.

[1] Alfred E. Neuman is the feature character of Mad Magazine, and is a copyright of Warner Brothers.

Citation: Bradshaw, L.D., S. R. Padgett, and B.H. Wells. 1995. Perspectives on the potential of glyphosate-resistant weeds. WSSA Abstr. 35:66.

Acknowledgement: I appreciate the diligence of the Missouri dealer who FAX'ed me this promotional piece. The revisions were initiated by the comments of a foreign dignitary who thought the original version wasn't critical enough of Monsanto's position.

Prepared by Bob Hartzler, extension weed management specialist, Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University
For more information contact:
ISU Extension Agronomy
2104 Agronomy Hall
Ames, Iowa 50011-1010
Voice: (515) 294-1923
Fax: (515) 294-9985