Superweeds Lead To Heavier Pesticide Use On Crops

When Congress finally gets around to passing the Farm Bill after the election, they are likely to overlook a small provision tucked into the House version, which would eliminate all substantive regulation of genetically modified foods. A new study published in Environmental Sciences Europe adds to the mounting evidence that GMOs need more, not less, regulation. The study finds that GM crops triggered a flood of toxic herbicides — 527 million pounds — since they were introduced in 1996.

The 16-year study pokes a large hole in a central selling point of biotechnological firms like Monsanto Company that specialize in crops engineered to withstand herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller. As Tom Philpott points out, Monsanto promotes their ubiquitous Roundup Ready crops’ ability to reduce pesticide use on their website. While Roundup Ready crops did reduce herbicide use by 2 percent between 1996 and 1999, “superweeds” quickly evolved to resist a chemical in Roundup called glyphosate, which forced farmers to apply heavier and heavier doses of the herbicide.

While there has been no conclusive evidence that eating GM foods has adverse health effects, glyphosate has been linked to birth defects, hormone disruption, and cell degeneration. The pervasive use of Roundup has led to traces of the chemical in rain and the urine of city dwellers.

Though the study found that insecticide use has declined since 1996, the EPA is investigating the emergence of a new breed of pesticide-resistant rootworms that are showing the same kind of evolutionary patterns as superweeds.


Should the GM-friendly provision in the House Farm Bill pass, the USDA would be forbidden from considering studies like these while approving or denying a GM crop for commercialization. If the agency fails to approve or deny a new crop within a year, it would automatically hit the market without even a cursory review. This new study could remind Congress of the risks involved in rubber-stamping GM products — however, since Monsanto has spent $6.3 million this year lobbying Washington, many lawmakers will be tempted to look the other way.