For all practical purposes, there’s just two kinds of GMOs. There’s those which are resistant to one or more herbicides, and there’s those which produce one or more of their own endemic Bt insecticides. Increasingly, GMO varieties do both of these, for multiple poisons in each case.
Weed resistance to herbicides and insect resistance to insecticides went back decades prior to the deployment of GMOs. It was widely predicted by everyone but corporate and government flacks that the incestuous focus on one herbicide, glyphosate, and a handful of Bt toxins, to the overthrow of any rational crop rotation and weed/pest management strategy, would quickly lead to weed and pest resistance which would render GMOs impotent. Within a few years of GMO commercialization these predictions started coming true. By ten years in, weed and pest resistance were accelerating toward disaster. Today the Roundup Ready regime is in ruins, and over much of the world most of the original Bt varieties are worthless against pests. For anyone who’s not an evolution denier, the failure of these two product genres is proven and complete.
Monsanto’s Roundup Ready product line, engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, has been the foundation of the GMO regime. US acreage planted to RR varieties in 2011 comprised 94% of soybeans, 72% of maize, and 96% of cotton (Benbrook 2012 p.2). Glyphosate use surged from 15 million pounds of active ingredient in 1996 to 159 million in 2009 (FWW 2013 p.2). According to Charles Benbrook’s 2012 analysis, RR crops caused overall herbicide use to increase over what would have been sprayed on exclusively non-GM conventional crops by a total of 527 million pounds from 1996 to 2011, the great bulk of this being extra glyphosate, with RR soybeans accounting for 70% of the total increase.
Glyphosate-based herbicide first went on sale in 1976, but because it wasn’t heavily used there weren’t reports of weeds resistant to it until the latter 90s, as the Roundup Ready system started becoming widely deployed. The first confirmed glyphosate-resistant superweed in the US was rigid ryegrass in California in 1998. Resistant horseweed, destined to become the most common Roundup Ready superweed, was first confirmed in Delaware in 2000. It quickly began a triumphal march across the southern US, while several other glyphosate-resistant weeds emerged, most notably Palmer amaranth and waterhemp. By 2012 Roundup-resistant horseweed was confirmed in 21 states, Palmer amaranth in 17, and waterhemp in 12 (FWW p.3). Today these superweeds are embarked upon a veritable march of conquest, while Roundup Ready crops are being driven back in what’s turning into a total rout. The Stratus Glyphosate Tracking Survey has documented the accelerating phenomenon. In 2013 over 70 million US acres were reported to be afflicted with glyphosate resistant weeds, up from 61.2 million in 2012, 40.7 in 2011, 32.6 in 2010. In 2012 50% of corn, soy, and cotton farmers reported such superweeds in their fields, up from 34% in 2011. 27% reported multiple superweed species, up from 15% in 2011. The numbers have been much higher in the worst-hit states of the South and Midwest.
All this has driven the great surge in glyphosate use and increases in the use of other herbicides including 2,4-D (up 3.9 million pounds per year from 2000 to 2009, a 90% increase) to supplement the faltering Roundup (FWW p.7). In 1996 RR cotton growers applied glyphosate an average of once a year at a rate of .63 pounds per acre (Benbrook 2009 p.30). By 2007 they were up to 2.4 applications for an average 1.89 pounds/acre, so the amount applied each time is also increasing. For RR soybean growers the 1996 numbers were 1.1 applications totaling .69 pounds per acre, while by 2006 the were up to 1.7 applications for a total of 1.36 pounds/acre.
As I’ll detail in a subsequent post, the failure of herbicide tolerance technology is already costing farmers severely.
There’s no longer a debate among honest, rational people. We have complete consensus that herbicide tolerance is a failed product genre which must be discontinued immediately and replaced by integrated weed management programs including rational crop rotation and cover cropping. (That’s still within the framework of industrial agriculture, which has one last chance to give itself some extra time. Of course the real agroecological solution goes far beyond this.)
But the corporatist system has no honesty or rationality to work with. The system’s only answer to the collapse of Roundup is the reactionary, luddite answer: To double down on proven failure by regressing to GMOs tolerant of older, even more destructive herbicides. This is the context in which the evolution-denialist system is promulgating the backward, luddite “solution” of corn and soybeans engineered to tolerate the retrograde herbicide 2,4-D, one of the two primary components of the chemical weapon Agent Orange. This is one of the dark age poisons which Monsanto and the US government originally promised would be permanently relegated to the scrap heap by the Roundup Ready system. Dicamba is another such regressive chemical being poised by Monsanto for a comeback.
The evolution-denier character of this policy is revealed by the fact that there are already many weeds documented to be resistant to 2,4-D, including the waterhemp which is among the big three rampaging with impunity across the Roundup Ready fields.
Agent Orange corn and soy will therefore be greeted by 2,4-D resistant weeds already prepared for them, and as the slathering of 2,4-D escalates, resistance to it will accelerate and spread. It’ll happen like clockwork, because it’s the standard mechanism of evolution, understood by everyone but the corporate liars and scientistic evolution deniers.
2,4-D and dicamba-tolerant GMOs, and any other herbicide tolerant GMO product such as Bayer’s isoxaflutole-tolerant soybean approved by the USDA in 2013, will also speed the development of weeds which possess metabolism-based general resistance across many or all herbicide classes.
Along the way, the promiscuous deployment of these hitherto restricted-use growth regulator herbicides will vastly escalate the damage they cause to other crops like tomatoes and grapes when they drift. 2,4-D is already notorious for this, causing by far the greatest number of agricultural collateral damage incidents even given its limited use hitherto. That’s why the Save Our Crops Coalition, which for a time lobbied the USDA to refuse approval of Agent Orange GMOs, included several major processors and canners. In 2012 Steve Smith, Agriculture Director of Red Gold, testified before Congress that “the widespread use of dicamba possesses the single most serious threat to the future of the specialty crop industry in the Midwest.”
This group dropped its opposition in 2012, claiming to have been reassured by Dow that its “Enlist” 2,4-D formulation won’t be drift-prone. I don’t know if they were really stupid enough to believe this or if they were bought off or intimidated, but regardless it’s an extremely foolish thing to believe. Even if by some miracle Dow were now capping its fifty year history of lies about 2,4-D and related poisons with a true statement for once, that wouldn’t affect the many other 2,4-D formulations on the market. The commercialization of Agent Orange crops will cause as much as a 30-fold increase in 2,4-D application (Benbrook 2012 p.5). According to one study, 2,4-D and dicamba are respectively 400 times and 70 times as likely as glyphosate to drift and damage or destroy other crops. We see again how only the most diehard, hunker-in-the-bunker luddite would want to respond to the proven failure of Roundup Ready, and therefore of herbicide tolerance as such, by doubling down with such a destructive escalation of the failure.
Then there’s the public health consequences of such a massive increase of this extreme poison. 2,4-D is an endocrine disruptor and causes birth defects and cancer. It’s been linked to Parkinson’s disease. The manufacture of 2,4-D chronically produces dioxins as a byproduct. How much dioxin produced is a function of the production process. Dow of course claims its own process is clean, but the historical record gives good reason to doubt this. Ad hoc measurements of dioxins in 2,4-D have found levels below WHO and FAO maximums. This begs the question of how valid those maximums are; as a rule regulator allowable maximums have zero to do with science or public health, but are mechanically raised to whatever level the poison companies require. At any rate testing has been sporadic and rare. We really have no idea how much dioxin laces the 2,4-D being used in agriculture, and so we have no idea to what extent GMO agriculture is permanently toxifying the soil with deadly dioxin.
Environmentally, the EPA deems 2,4-D “very highly toxic to slightly toxic to freshwater and marine invertebrates”, while the National Marine Fisheries Service considers it a dire threat to endangered and threatened salmon species (FWW p.11).
And all this is for the sake of no practical or rational goal, nothing which could ever benefit human beings even the slightest bit, but merely to escalate the poison sector’s campaign of planned obsolescence and disaster capitalism. All for the sake of nothing but corporate profit and power.
This is indisputable, since the collapse of glyphosate renders it indisputable that herbicide tolerant GMOs comprise a failed technology. Today it’s impossible to support this technology “by mistake”. It’s only possible to be consciously, willfully, criminally committed to forcing humanity to remain on this ever-accelerating poison treadmill, with ever-increasing agricultural, economic, environmental, and health detriments, all for the sake of nothing but corporate domination. Humanity must fight this regressive luddite campaign which seeks to drag us back to the agricultural dark ages. We must overthrow the corporations which seeks to prevent by force our emergence into the light of the most vanguard agroecological technologies and science.