Toxic Weed Control
Published: May 12, 2010
To the Editor:
The evolution of weeds resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, also known as Roundup, is a difficult, but very predictable, challenge for American farmers (“Rise of the Superweeds,” Business Day, May 4). In 1990, I co-authored “Biotechnology’s Bitter Harvest,” a report warning that such weeds were certain to emerge if farmers widely adopted genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops, which is exactly what has happened.
Twenty years ago, the biotechnology industry promised that Roundup Ready crops and glyphosate would usher in a new era of less toxic weed control. In a stark betrayal of that promise, Monsanto is now subsidizing farmers’ return to older, more toxic herbicides.
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 an ever-growing concern, perhaps research and policy incentives for such solutions will finally get their due.
Washington, May 5, 2010
The writer is deputy director and senior scientist at the Food and Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists.