Genetic Modification of Crops Leads to Superweeds Threat

May arrived with reports of "superweeds" that have developed a resistance to the herbicide Roundup, which is used extensively in monocultural agriculture where single crops predominate on large farming operations.

An alarming article in The New York Times says there are now "10 resistant [weed] species in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres, predominantly soybeans, cotton and corn."

Subsidized Failure

Soybeans, cotton and corn are heavily subsidized by the United States government. Those subsidies have helped them become some of the most widely grown crops in American agriculture. Those crops are now common ingredients in a tremendous number of products.

The plants were genetically modified (GM) to be resistant to Roundup, so the herbicide could be used to destroy weeds without harming crops. With the emergence of the "superweeds" farmers are likely to go back to conventional herbicides to kill the Roundup-resistant weeds threatening huge fields of GM crops.

A Predictable Disaster

Author and nutritionist Marion Nestle points out in a recent article for The Atlantic that the Union of Concerned Scientists predicted that the widespread planting of GM crops would produce selection pressures for Roundup-resistant weeds. The Union's Jane Rissler and Margaret Mellon wrote that these would be difficult and expensive to control. They made that prediction in 1996.

This is just the latest in a string of failures for GM crops. In May of 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called on "Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks."

As for the claim that GM foods are needed to feed a hungry world, Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist in the Union of Concerned Scientists Food and Environment Program has concluded "...that GE (genetic engineering) has done little to increase overall crop yields." And a major study conducted at the University of Kansas has found that the controversial technology actually reduces crop yields.

Require the Labeling of GM Foods

Many people are unaware that they are regularly consuming GM foods because they are not labeled as such. Giant agribusinesses do not want the labeling of GM foods because consumers don't want to buy them. They are even opposed to the labeling of foods as GM-free. (GM foods are prohibited from being used in food that carries the USDA's organic label.)

As Elise Pearlstein, producer of the Oscar nominated film Food Inc. has said, "It's outrageous that genetically modified foods don't need to be labeled...Whatever your position, you should have the right to make informed choices, and we don't."

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