Superweeds: Compounding Madness?

Technology driven industrialised world that was created over past few centuries is predicated principally even today on *Dominance of Nature, and if required Tailoring it to meet the needs of Capital & Industry*. A friend brought to my notice a report by BBC’s McGrath and Strasser, Superweeds pose GM-resistant challenge for farmers:^^US farmers are facing a growing challenge from weeds resistant to chemical sprays, and enduring millions of dollars in losses as a result. The so-called “superweeds” have arisen because of the success of genetically modified crops, which now account for the vast majority of US corn, soya and cotton. GM essentially means that crops are protected from one type of chemical weedkiller. But because farmers have become over-reliant on this one product, weeds with natural resistance have spread rapidly and have strangled production on millions of acres. Scientists say the solution to the widespread resistance problem is a new type of GM that uses a powerful weedkiller that was once part of Agent Orange, the defoliant widely used during the Vietnam war^^. The report is badly written.
Genetically Modified Crops are defined here as those that are protected from a desired type of weedicide. This doesn’t convey the correct picture. Genetically Modified crops are those where one are more genes are altered or some *alien* gene is introduced for desired traits. Weedicide resistance is only one type of genetic modification agro-chemical companies work upon that confers immunity to desired weedicide. Such weed or insect resistance is practically based on only two genetic modifications today: ^^herbicide-tolerance (HT) due to glyphosate-insensitive form of the gene coding for the enzyme targeted by the herbicide, 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS), derived from soil bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, and insect-resistance due to one or more toxin genes derived from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)^^. Such GM crops are termed for example by Monsanto, *Round Up Ready*. I believe the term Round Up has come from policing where criminals are rounded up. In the field of agriculture, the criminals are the unwanted weeds that smother the food crops. Making GM crops round up ready implies that when weedicide is sprayed to round up the *criminal weeds*, the GM crops will escape the dragnet. The fondness of US industry to use Wild West metaphors to peddle their ware emanates from its macho aggression rooted in the philosophy of conquering, or at least taming, nature.
The trouble is nature doesn’t give up so easily. The evolution itself had to face extremely hostile environment,  especially in its infancy, far worse than what Monsanto and its like throw at it now, and in the process has accessed traits and resilience to face great adversity. While a particular weedicide many be a runway success initially in weeding out undesirable weeds, soon it may happen that its very success creates favourable space and opportunity to those specimens of weeds that have or have acquired resistance to weedicide to grow and proliferate. This is precisely what the news says has happened. Unfortunately, just like some war warmongering world leaders or trigger happy police officers, the dominant technology doctrine considers that when use of force has failed, the reason is that force used was not enough.The *unnatural answer* therefore to the new exploded problem is deadlier weedicide. Going back into the armoury of *Agent Orange*, which was used as a defoliator on gigantic scale in the USA’s war on Vietnam in 60s and 70s with devastating effect even on unborn generations there, the answer is sought in a component of the very same deadly Agent Orange cocktail. Can Humanity wither such madness?
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One Response to “Superweeds: Compounding Madness?”

  1. P Vaughan Says:

    The scene is set at harvest time in Arkansas October 2009. Grim-faced farmers and scientists speak from fields infested with giant pigweed plants that can withstand as much glyphosate herbicide as you can afford to douse on them. One farmer spent US$0.5 million in three months trying to clear the monster weeds in vain; they stop combine harvesters and break hand tools. Already, an estimated one million acres of soybean and cotton crops in Arkansas have become infested.The palmer amaranth or palmer pigweed is the most dreaded weed. It can grow 7-8 feet tall, withstand withering heat and prolonged droughts, produce thousands of seeds and has a root system that drains nutrients away from crops. If left unchecked, it would take over a field in a year.

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