Photo: Peter Blanchard, Flickr/CC BY-SA
All hail the rise of super-weeds! Sure, we've already thanked Monsanto for helping a tenacious, fast-growing, brand new kind of plant evolve. But the latest revelations from a study published in Weed Science reveal the details how dousing weeds with Roundup have caused the evolution of a "super-weed" that can grow up to 3 inches a day -- and the impact new, herbicide-resistant weeds might have on global food production.Fast Company has more:
A new series of studies released by Weed Science this month finds at least 21 weed species have become resistant to the popular herbicide glyphosate (sold as Monsanto's Roundup), and a growing number survive multiple herbicides, so-called "super-weeds." The same selection pressure creating bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics is leading to the rapid evolution of plants that survive modern herbicides. If the trend continues, yields could drop and food costs climb as weeds grow more difficult to uproot.Remember, Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the world. Much of the modern food production system has come to rely on it -- and as it becomes harder and more expensive to get rid of weeds (and super-weeds) in a world where the market have grown accustomed to an artificially deflated cost of weed-killing, this Roundup trouble could cause global food prices to spike.
So it's not just the rise of mutant super-weeds that we have to watch out now for -- super weeds which, by the way, have in some cases grown so gnarly that they destroy the farm equipment employed to attempt to tame it. These super weeds have grown resistant not just to Roundup, but to multiple herbicides. FC describes them thusly:
"Super-strains of plants like pigweed--which grows three inches a day and is tough enough to damage farm machinery--have emerged, which may dramatically reduce the options for farmers to control them. The alternatives are usually more dangerous chemicals or plowing and mulching fields, undermining many of the environmental benefits biotech crops are supposed to offer. It's 'the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,' claims Andrew Wargo III, president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts."
Indeed, reports of flourishing super-weeds are alarming. But more frightening is the prospect of a shock to global food prices at a time when they're already volatile, already rising -- and thanks to climate change, projected to keep doing so.
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More on Monsanto and Super Weeds
Dear Monsanto , Thank You for the Superweeds
Genetically Engineered Agriculture Results in Increased Herbicide Resistance