What is in this article?:
t’s not hard to get confused when you hear about genetic modification of foods. This information can help guide you.
What are pesticide-resistant GMOs?
One of the most prevalent GMO technologies has successfully bred resistance to pesticides into seeds, such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready. When a trait is bred into a crop making it resistant to one particular herbicide, that herbicide can be used with impunity against weeds while not affecting the primary crop. This of course only works when farmers who plant these crops use that specific herbicide.
The vast majority of commodity crops—including corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, and now alfalfa—have been bred to resist one best-selling herbicide called glyphosate. Glyphosate is what is known as a broad-spectrum herbicide, meaning it is designed to kill a wide variety of weeds. Glyphosate is the primary active ingredient in the extensively used Roundup herbicide made by Monsanto.
Because of the quantity of GMO crops designed to resist glyphosate, an unnerving amount of this chemical is being employed. “The EPA recently came out with an estimate of glyphosate use,” says Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst with the Center for Food Safety. “If you include applications like home and garden, commercial, and industrial government in addition to agricultural use, it’s up right around 200 million pounds. It’s probably the most widely used pesticide in history,” according to Freese.
What are the effects of Glyphosate on plant, soil, animal and human biology?
Glyphosate does not function as a normal pesticide might, directly killing the plant with which it comes in contact. Its action is, in fact, far subtler: it acts as a chelating agent, whereby it binds itself to molecules, such as minerals, and holds them tightly, making them unavailable to the plant or weed.
This chelating action actually leads to harm for plants, as it removes important trace minerals, a fact observed by Dr. Robert Kremer, microbiologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, who conducted a 15-year study on glyphosate’s effects on plants and root microbiology. “Glyphosate is a chelator, which will bind with elements such as manganese and calcium, and those sorts of nutrients, and immobilize them,” says Kremer. “In other words, it will make them unavailable for plant uptake.”
“Research is beginning to indicate that glyphosate produces some sort of pathogen in living organisms that increases disease,” says Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus at Purdue University, microbiologist and plant pathologist.
“It has been found in animal tissues and in products that would be consumed by humans,” Huber notes. “This organism infects a broad scope of animals already—horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and poultry. To believe that it wouldn’t infect humans would be kind of naive at this point.”
Why Is Weed Resistance Increasing Due to GMOs?
When hyping pesticide-resistant GMOs as the great solution to farming, one bit of information was not brought to light: increased use of any pesticide causes resistance in the pests to which it is being applied. This is coming home to roost, with glyphosate-resistant weeds becoming a very serious problem.
“They’re creeping from the East and the South into the Midwest, and people are starting to see them somewhat in the North. Studies out there are already showing that weeds are going to evolve resistance to this and other herbicides too,” warns Bill Freese. “So probably we’ll have weed populations resistant to multiple herbicides—kind of like an arms race between the crops and the weeds. It’s totally unsustainable agriculture, bad for the environment and human health, and it’s where this Roundup Ready model is leading.”
To battle these “superweeds,” the GMO empire has a solution: Create another GMO crop that will resist a different pesticide doused on these new weeds.