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9-Misc: Roundup Unready

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TITLE:  Roundup Unready
SOURCE: The New York Times, USA, Opinion
DATE:   Feb 19, 2003

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Roundup Unready

One of the most pervasive chemicals in modern agriculture is a herbicide
called glyphosate, which is better known by its trade name, Roundup. When
it was first introduced in 1974, by Monsanto, no one could have predicted
its current ubiquity or the way it would change farming. Roundup was
safe, effective and relatively benign, environmentally speaking. It
became one of the essential tools that made no-till farming - a
conservation practice in which farmers spray weeds rather than plowing
the ground - increasingly popular. But what really made Roundup pervasive
was the development of genetically modified crops, especially soybeans,
cotton and corn, that could tolerate having Roundup sprayed directly on
them. The weeds died but these crops, designated Roundup Ready, thrived.
Seventy-five percent of the soybean crop planted in this country last
year was Roundup Ready, as was 65 percent of the cotton and 10 percent of
the corn. On soybeans alone last year, farmers sprayed about 33 million
pounds of glyphosate.

But nature, in turn, has been developing some Roundup Ready plants of her
own, weeds that can tolerate being sprayed with Roundup. Two weeds,
mare's-tail and water hemp, have already begun to show resistance, and
others will certainly follow. This is simply natural adaptation at work.

No one is saying that Roundup will lose its overall effectiveness any
time soon. But while Monsanto executives and scientists are doing their
best to protect the herbicide, nature is also throwing all her resources
at defeating it. In a very real sense, nature has been given an enormous
advantage by the sheer ubiquity of Roundup, just as some bacteria are
given an edge by the ubiquity of agricultural antibiotics. The logic of
industrial farming is to use your best tools until they're worthless, and
to hasten their worthlessness by using them as much as you can.

This is precisely why there has been so much opposition to marketing a
variety of corn that includes a BT gene, which creates a toxin that kills
an insect called the corn-borer. BT is a safe, natural and effective
weapon for gardeners and farmers, and to lessen its effectiveness by
overusing it, like Roundup, would be a terrible waste. Industrial
agriculture is always searching for a silver bullet, forgetting that
eventually a silver bullet misfires.