Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Part of Matters unravelling
In case you’re not familiar: Monsanto’s Roundup is a herbicide—a weed-killer—that kills just about any kind of plant you don’t want. Roundup is what you spray on the sidewalk or driveway to kill grass and dandelions coming up in the cracks. You wouldn’t spray it on the garden, though, because it’ll kill almost everything. Roundup has been on the market since about 1976, and has been promoted as a safe, non-toxic and biodegradable product.
Meanwhile… in 1996, Monsanto began selling “Roundup Ready” soybeans. These are soybeans genetically altered so that Roundup doesn’t kill them. The combination of Roundup, and Roundup Ready crops, constitutes a system of agricultural weed control. A farmer plants a crop of Roundup Ready soybeans, and can then spray Roundup indiscriminately, to kill all the weeds in the soybean field, and only the weeds.
The following stories have lately emerged, to cast a shadow over this happy state of affairs:
- First, new “superweeds” have spontaneously developed genetic resistance to glyphosate; Roundup doesn’t kill them. Uh oh!
- Second, glyphosate may be the cause of widespread kidney disease among agricultural workers in Central America, India and Sri Lanka. This is taken seriously enough, or so I’ve read, that some affected countries are banning the herbicide.
- Third, a story that Roundup causes birth defects in farm animals.
What’s interesting about this: there’s a stupendous amount of money at stake. If global agribusiness were to lose faith in the Roundup Ready System, Monsanto must surely face a big challenge to its business model, and global agricultural productivity may decline.