Big commodity farmers love Monsanto Company’s so-called “Roundup Ready” crops, which now account for 70 percent of the corn and 90 percent of the soybeans grown in the United States. Little wonder. Monsanto’s seeds are genetically modified to survive applications of the company’s weed killer, Roundup. This enables farmers to simply spray the popular herbicide directly on their fields throughout the season. Weeds obligingly shrivel and die, but the crops keep growing.
Putting aside environmental concerns, using Roundup Ready seeds sounds like a no-brainer, and for several years after Monsanto introduced GM crops in the late 1990s, farmers were convinced it was, making Roundup the world’s biggest selling herbicide.
Now, there is mounting evidence that the Roundup-Ready miracle was always too good to be true.
Earlier this month, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) microbiologist Bob Kremer, told a Kansas City gathering of the Organization for Competitive Markets, a research organization that focuses on antitrust issues and trade policy in agriculture, that the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, affects the root structure of crops and that the herbicide could be causing a fungal root disease. That might be the explanation for why research shows that the GM crops do not yield more than conventional crops, said Kremer, who has spent 15 years studying the effects of Roundup.
Kremer’s work supports claims by the retired Purdue University plant pathologist Don Huber that glyphosate reduces soybeans’ ability to absorb minerals in the soil by as much as 80 percent. These “micronutrients” include calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, nickel, and zinc. Huber says that the chemical also kills microorganisms in the soil that are important to plant growth, and he believes there is evidence that it could even be harmful to the health of humans and animals.
Monsanto denies all of these claims.
But there is no denying another problem caused by Roundup Ready crops. At least 10 species of native weeds, including giant ragweed and marestail, have mutated and become “Roundup Ready” themselves, forcing farmers to resort to herbicides that are even more environmentally harmful than glyphosate or in some cases to abandon fields altogether.
First discovered in 2000 in Delaware, the “superweeds” have now spread to 22 states, according to scientists at the University of Missouri.
Given the mounting body of research indicating that Roundup Ready crops are far from the panacea they were once thought to be, one would think that the USDA would be interested in at least reviewing the latest findings, but Kremer said that his employer has shown no interest in further research.
On the contrary, earlier this year the USDA approved the unrestricted planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa. In terms of acreage, alfalfa is the United States’ fourth biggest crop behind corn, soybeans, and wheat.
Creating resistant weeds, harming the very crops it was meant to protect, possibly harmful to human health . . . It may be time for Roundup and the GMO crops that rely on it to ride off into the sunset.