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mattbrowne's avatar

GMO seeds and weedkillers - Why did Monsanto engineers expect they could beat the power of evolutionary forces?

Asked by mattbrowne (31595points) May 11th, 2010


Monsanto sells genetically modified seed that’s supposed to survive spraying with their weedkiller. Unfortunately, the weeds learned to resist it – and now their GMO seed is struggling against the pesticide-resistant weeds that evolved as a result of their own product.

Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.

To fight them, Mr. Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.

What is your opinion about the future of genetically modified organisms?

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15 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

We are so screwed if we think we can outwit Mother Nature and evolution. We aren’t the only life force on this planet determined to survive and meddling around with GM this and that invites the law of unintended consequences and we are seeing more and more examples of this every year.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Us organic farmers are laughing all the way to the bank.

janbb's avatar

I think we live in an increasingly scary world and we are screwing ourselves royally. I can’t bare to hear the news stories coming out of the Gulf about the oil spill.

SuperMouse's avatar

I have heard interviews with representatives from Monsanto defending the monopoly they were creating as a result of these seeds and pesticides. It irritated the heck out of me hearing this guy tell everyone to shut up and quit complaining because they were the geniuses who thought of this and they deserved to reap the reward. I heard farmers complain about price fixing on Monsanto’s part because they had this wonderful product that could (as so aptly put by @Cruiser) “outwit Mother Nature.” My first reaction to this story was that this is a karmic thing and serves Monsanto right. Once I get past that I realize that these things are really doing us all much more harm than good.

Personally, I will continue to be a zealous supporter of organic farming.

nikipedia's avatar

I don’t have a problem with genetically modified food. I would argue (as many others have) that the fact that we plant, harvest, and selectively breed produce is already a genetic modification. Modifying genes in the lab is a difference in degree, not in kind.

Also, I think it is completely inappropriate for people who live in a country with a food surplus to complain about the use of GMOs in countries that are struggling (and often failing) to feed everyone.

That said, I think Monsanto is a deeply fucked up company and got what was coming to them.

lilikoi's avatar

They didn’t expect to beat nature. They just simply know that if they make this stuff they will make a lot of money selling it. They are thinking short term.

They did not “get what was coming to them”. They have these farmers in their pockets now. All they have to do is release a stronger pesticide, and their profit and legacy will continue. We are the collateral damage in this scheme, and we stand to lose the most. When soil is completely depleted, water is contaminated, and there is no stronger pesticide, they’ll roll up their wads of cash, move on to something else, and leave us to deal with and pay for the mess.

Planting, harvesting, selectively breeding, grafting, taking cuttings is quite a big difference from the kind of genetic modification Monsanto and others are doing. The former is limited to crossing plant genes amongst plants whereas the latter involves genes from very different species – fish, for example. Without the type of gene modification Monsanto, et al. are doing, the likelihood of a fish gene getting into a plant genome is pretty much nil, don’t you think @nikipedia?

I also disagree on @nikipedia‘s second point. The crops being grown in such countries with hunger issues are largely being exported, not eaten by their own people. Two, if you are not allowed to save seed and you get on the downward spiral that is increasingly harsh pesticides to stave off weeds you will be fully at the mercy of Monsanto, et al. for your very being. Three, I have read and heard that data shows GMO use actually does NOT yield higher production than other methods of farming. It makes complete sense for us to advocate for not using GMOs to people who live in countries struggling to feed their people based on #1 and #2 alone, but #3 is the final nail in the coffin. It’s not like there aren’t better alternatives to what Monsanto, et al are offering.

That said, I do not have a problem with GMOs in and of themselves. Research is ultimately a good thing. I do have a problem with patent law surrounding GMOs and the types of GMOs Monsanto, et al are producing and the fact that Monsanto et al have basically unilaterally decided for a lot of the world that the future will contain their GMOs, what with them hopping into neighboring fields and all. Monsanto will eventually be reigned in I think, but then they will move on to something else and leave us to deal with and pay for the mess they created. That’s their pattern.

Cruiser's avatar

@lilikoi What I found interesting and alarming is Monsanto is now suing even mom and pop farmers for using their technology even though they are “organic” farms but got the genes in their crops because the crops were pollinated by bees carrying pollen from the Monsanto growers!! David and Goliath for the modern world!

lilikoi's avatar

@Cruiser Yes, totally! It is sad – but understandable – that these small-scale farmers end up settling the cases most of the time and paying the fines. We need someone who is able to challenge this in court.

nikipedia's avatar

@lilikoi: Sure, the specific example you cite is unlikely to happen using traditional agricultural techniques, but I stand by my previous statement: it’s a difference in degree, not in kind.

And simply because GMOs haven’t been used responsibly to reduce starvation in countries that need it does not speak to their potential to do so.

lilikoi's avatar

I agree that there is perhaps potential for GM to reduce hunger problems and in some cases may be necessary to ensure a plant’s survival (as was the case with ringspot virus in papaya in HI) and therefore I do support research in theory… but not if we need to trade biodiversity, water rights, seed-saving rights (can you believe the burden of proof for ensuring seeds are not of a patented product is on the individual farmer and NOT on Monsanto???!!!), health, right to choose whether or not to buy into GMO, and tax-dollars to get it.

Going back to hunger issues though, I do not see GM as necessary currently to solving hunger problems even if GM crops provided larger yields than alternative farming methods (which they do not; more on this below). It is economics and politics not agriculture that causes people to starve. The capability to produce enough food to feed everyone in the world currently exists, without GMOs. Perhaps one day population will get to the point where we do need GMOs to feed ourselves. By that time, lack of water will be our main concern.

Regarding GMO and crop yields:


“A 2003 report published in the journal Science states that “in the United States and Argentina, average yield effects [of GM crops] are negligible and in some cases even slightly negative.”

“The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2004 report on agricultural biotechnology acknowledges that GM crops can have reduced yields.”

“In 1998 several universities carried out a study that demonstrated that, on average, Roundup Ready soy varieties were 4% lower in yield than conventional varieties.”


“The most notable and problematic (effect) is the tendency of drought-tolerant GM lines to not perform as well under favourable conditions. This appears to be the case for CIMMYT’s GM wheat and Monsanto’s GM corn. The flaw is a profound one. It amounts to shifting the yield losses experienced in dry seasons onto the good years.”

“Significantly, the trials found that organic production yielded equivalently to conventional systems after a transition period. Yet even more importantly, Rodale found that in drought conditions in which rainfall was 30 percent less than normal, organic systems yielded 28 to 34 percent higher than conventional systems.”


“Thousands of controlled trials have shown significantly decreased yields with GM crops…”
Too bad most of the source links are 404 now though…


”...the report said claims of increased yields have not
been realised overall—except for a small increase in some maize

“The only independent research looking at the impact of genetic
engineering on yields has found that they actually decrease by around 6
per cent, while agrochemical use has increased as farmers apply greater
amounts of herbicide to crops that are resistant to it. Profits are
being eroded as market prices decrease, because the GM ‘brand’ has lost
its international market.”


“The official report of the Govt. of the State of Andhra Pradesh, India, on the performance of genetically modified Bt cotton in the season 2002, “shows that in North Telengana, net income from Bt varieties was five times less than the yield from local non-Bt varieties. In Southern Telengana, the income from Monsanto’s Bt crop was nearly 7 times less than what was obtained from the indigenous non-Bt cotton varieties, demonstrating the resounding failure of the Monsanto variety.” ”

“A six-member panel set up by the State of Gujarat government concluded Bt cotton was simply “unfit for cultivation and should be banned”.”

lilikoi's avatar


“For years the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.

2009’s Failure to Yield is the first report to closely evaluate the overall effect genetic engineering has had on crop yields in relation to other agricultural technologies and found that, over the past 15 years, traditional crop breeding and improved agricultural practices account for most gains in U.S. crop production.”

mattbrowne's avatar

Some time ago I read an article in a newspaper that Monsanto is making organic farmers pay for “illegally using” GM crop while it was in fact the wind that carried pollen into their fields. Most courts seem to support Monsanto based on patent law. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, but perhaps it was the media greatly exaggerating these cases.

lilikoi's avatar

I do not think it was media spin. Monsanto has a crew of assholes trolling the country specifically employed to harass people. I am honestly not sure what the court has ruled in any of these instances as everyone tends to settle the cases and pay Monsanto. Monsanto talks about some of the cases on their website. And Organic Consumers Association also covers court cases involving Monsanto. Like @Cruiser said, it is very David vs Goliath. Here is an article about how a former attorney for Monsanto is now sitting as a justice on the Supreme Court making decisions about the legality of what Monsanto is doing.

mattbrowne's avatar

If I were a lawmaker I would require Monsanto pay the organic farmers infecting their fields with GM seeds. It’s absurd to ask royalties for patents when the farmers never actually bought GM seeds and it was never their intention to use them. Perhaps the farmers should invent a unique perfume and if the wind blows some molecules into Monsanto premises the farmers should sue them for smelling their patented perfume illegally.

lilikoi's avatar

I just recently finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver in which she explains that we are currently producing more food than we need…..the hungry people just aren’t getting enough of it. The issue is politics not production. We don’t need GM to feed the world; we are capable of doing that without it.

@mattbrowne Me too.

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