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editorial

The seeds of destruction? Roundup®: the most popular herbicide in the world


March 12, 2014

The line of people who love to hate the bio-tech and chemical manufacturing corporation Monsanto is long. If you don’t believe it, just Google the words “Monsanto evil,” and you could spend the rest of your day reading why people feel this way.

Today, the biotechnology that links two of Monsanto’s biggest products— the herbicide Roundup® and the company’s genetically engineered (GE) “Roundup Ready®” seeds—is at the heart of growing contention between organic and sustainable farmers on one hand and conventional farmers and corporate agribusiness on the other. The situation has gotten bad enough that the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided last November it had to seek farmers’ input to identify “ways to foster communication and collaboration among those involved in diverse agricultural production systems” (blogs.usda.gov/2013/11/06/agricultural-coexistence-fostering-collaboration-and-communication/). The four-month period for farmers to comment on what the USDA calls “coexistence” ended last week.

Here’s the problem: an overwhelming majority of organic farmers (80% of those who responded to a survey by the non-profit organization, Food & Water Watch) fear real harm to their livelihoods from “genetic drift,” which happens when wind-blown pollen from genetically modified (GMO) and GE crops on nearby conventional farms cross-contaminates their fields, rendering their crops unacceptable to consumers seeking non-GMO products. (Never mind that the philosophy behind how they practice agriculture is diametrically opposed.)

Pollen drift is not the only kind of drift, however. Chemical-based herbicides and pesticides, which organic and sustainable farmers eschew, also drift, and their crops are vulnerable where certain GMO crops are not. Take, for example, Monsanto’s GMO seeds for alfalfa, corn, sugar beets, canola, soy beans and cotton; these were genetically engineered specifically so their plants can tolerate being dowsed with large quantities of Roundup® and survive.

Outside of agriculture, glyphosate, the generic name for Roundup, is also pervasive, used to kill weeds along roadsides and on public utility rights of way, as well as around homeowners’ sidewalks and gardens. An aquatic version is approved for weed control in ponds, reservoirs, waterfowl sanctuaries and recreational waterways.

Now comes word from the U.S. Geological Survey that glyphosate and its toxic degradation byproduct AMPA were found in over 75% of all air and rain samples in Mississippi in 2007 (ecowatch.com/2014/02/27/monsantos-roundup-found-in-75-of-air-and-rain-samples/).