RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Talk about irony. Monsanto, the huge corporation that pushed farmers to plant its genetically modified (GMO) seeds—which need to be used in conjunction with the company's Roundup pesticide—is now "incentivizing" farmers to use its competitors' chemical weed killers. You see, Roundup isn't working anymore. In just a few years, weeds have developed a resistance to the pesticide, causing an explosion of hard-to-kill superweeds that have put millions of acres of U.S. farmland out of commission. So to keep farmers dependent on its expensive chemical system, Monsanto is now paying up to $20 an acre to farmers planting Roundup Ready GMO crops, so long as they spray other harmful chemicals on the land to reduce weeds, since Roundup isn't doing the trick anymore. The corporation that trapped farmers into using all of its products, from seed to weed management, is asking farmers to use other companies' products—and paying them per acre to do so.
"It says 'desperation.' What we're seeing is the collapse of the whole system of weed management that was build around herbicide sales," says Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PhD, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network of North America. "Ecologists predicted back in the '90s that as soon as you start pouring on and designing seeds for use of one pesticide, there will be an emergence of superweeds. Bingo, that's what we have now."
THE DETAILS: Monsanto created and patented genetically modified, herbicide-resistant crops, and although this system is more expensive, sold it to farmers on a promise of eradicating weeds with little work and less pesticide spraying. In India, where Monsanto also pushed this GMO/chemical technology, farmers facing insurmountable debt after switching to chemical farming are killing themselves at unprecedented rates. More than 200,000 have committed suicide since Montanto infiltrated the cotton farming system there.
Farmers in the U.S. aren't taking their lives on the same scale, but their way of life is seriously threatened, thanks to Monsanto's antics. More than 5 million acres of farmland are now infested with Roundup-resistant superweeds. Some monster weeds (such as pigweed) develop stalks several inches in diameter and have actually wrecked farmers' equipment. This is opening the doors for other biotech companies like Dow to push other crops through the approval pipeline, including ones designed to be used with chemical 2,4-D, one of two highly toxic herbicides used in Agent Orange. Meanwhile, many farmers are turning to older, toxic pesticides to deal with the superweeds.
"The U.S. farmer is in a crisis that was pretty much created by Monsanto. It's ironic—they're now paying for the competition's herbicides just to deal with the resistance that they, in effect, created," says Ishii-Eiteman, who authored a 2008 United Nations report investigating corporate-driven agriculture funded by pesticides and GMO crops. While 58 of the 61 nations approved the report, which in essence found business as usual is not an option, the United States, Canada, and Australia did not sign on because the report sharply criticized the GMO/biotech sector.
But things may be changing. Several state attorneys general, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, are looking at the company's practices, including possible antitrust violations. "The system worked for a few years in terms of profit for a company, but it's not working for farmers or the environment," explains Ishii-Eiteman.