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Published June 07, 2010, 04:19 PM

Roundup Ready crops have led to resistant weeds becoming a growing problem

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Already overburdened American farmers now have a new challenge: the development of weeds resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup.

By: Jane Rissler,

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Already overburdened American farmers now have a new challenge: the development of weeds resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup.

Twenty years ago, Monsanto promised that its genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops and glyphosate would usher in a new era of less toxic, labor-saving weed control. But now, farmers in many parts of the country are reporting resistant weeds that require additional time, money and labor to control. And many reluctantlyare returning to older, more toxic herbicides.

Rotation option

In 1990, I co-authored “Biotechnology’s Bitter Harvest,” a report warning that resistant weeds were certain to emerge if farmers widely adopted Roundup Ready crops, which is exactly what has happened.

As an alternative, our report advocated modern sustainable agriculture. This involves rotating a diverse set of crops to discourage weeds and other pests, planting cover crops to control weeds and tilling the soil judiciously to reduce the need for chemicals and prevent erosion.

Two decades later, with superweeds a growing problem, research and policy incentives to help farmers implement such solutions are needed more than ever.

Editor’s Note: Rissler is the deputy director and senior scientist, for the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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