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Biotech Earth Science

First Superbugs, Now Superweeds 435

Posted by Soulskill
from the as-long-as-there-are-no-supersharks-we're-ok dept.
Finxray writes "Years of heavy use of the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup has led to the rapid growth of superweeds. They are spreading throughout North America, creating headaches for farmers and posing 'the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,' according to Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts. From the article: 'The first resistant species to pose a serious threat to agriculture was spotted in a Delaware soybean field in 2000. Since then, the problem has spread, with 10 resistant species in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres, predominantly soybeans, cotton and corn. The superweeds could temper American agriculture’s enthusiasm for some genetically modified crops. Soybeans, corn and cotton that are engineered to survive spraying with Roundup have become standard in American fields. However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds."
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First Superbugs, Now Superweeds

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  • Just as the patent on Roundup Ready soybeans [nytimes.com] is about to run out, the Roundup Ready weeds come out. Coincidence?
  • ... and we're the designers.

    This was predictable for anyone who believes in evolution. We've known since the early '70s that bacteria can pass genes back and forth. We've known for a while that plants can pass genes on to animals (http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/05/02/2215251/Aphids-Color-Comes-From-a-Fungus-Gene?from=rss [slashdot.org]). A combination of natural selection and gene transfer makes this not only expected, but inevitable.

    Franken-weeds.

  • by Beretta Vexe (535187) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @09:33AM (#32138484)

    Can they sue mother nature, she obliviously infringes some Monsanto patents with her round up ready weed?

  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @09:33AM (#32138488)
    Examples like this show natural selection in practice. You don't have to wait thousands of years to see Evolution. It is happening all around you everyday. Superweeds are a predictable outcome of pesticide usage.
  • Re:Hallelujah! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jimicus (737525) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @09:38AM (#32138528)

    There is, of course, the bijou issue-ette that organic farming produces substantially less product per acre, meaning you need a hell of a lot more space to grow the same amount of food. Meanwhile, population (and hence demand for food) is growing.

  • by inflex (123318) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @09:38AM (#32138530) Homepage Journal

    We're seeing the same thing starting around here in subtle ways. Our neighbour uses various things to cull the 'weeds' (grass damnit!) on his farm plot, however every season the tough stuff comes back faster (thorns, prickles, even Parthenium now is coming back) and he's spraying more frequently to try compensate. What's more annoying is that we're trying to run an organic system here and his washoff and overspray tends to drift into our property, causing our natural grasses to die back a fair distance into our property as well as tainting the orchard crop closest to the boundary.

    All that's happened with agriculture is that we've traded the future for short term gains. Time to put away the toxic stuff and start living with less than perfect harvests, at least it's better than -no- harvest (also, stop trying to grow stuff where it really doesn't belong damnit!)

  • by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @09:47AM (#32138588) Homepage Journal

    And he's supposed to know that his crop was cross-pollinated with "patented" food just how? Not everyone can afford expensive testing of their crops.

  • by Scrameustache (459504) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:05AM (#32138702) Homepage Journal

    And he's supposed to know that his crop was cross-pollinated with "patented" food just how? Not everyone can afford expensive testing of their crops.

    Listen, he either pays Monsanto to certify his field is clear, or he pays Monsanto for their gene patents. Either way, he pays Monsanto. Also, he should pay an MPAA member while he's at it, I'm sure he had some IP running through his head during that time. And a bank, gotta pay the banks for the privilege of paying all those other folks.

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:09AM (#32138736)

    'Regarding his 1998 crop, Schmeiser did not put forward any defence of accidental contamination. The evidence showed that the level of Roundup Ready canola in Mr. Schmeiser's 1998 fields was 95-98% (See paragraph 53 of the trial ruling). Evidence was presented indicating that such a level of purity could not occur by accidental means. On the basis of this the court found that Schmeiser had either known "or ought to have known" that he had planted Roundup Ready canola in 1998.'

    'The courts at all three levels noted that the case of accidental contamination beyond the farmer's control was not under consideration but rather that Mr. Schmeiser's action of having identified, isolated and saved the Roundup-resistant seed placed the case in a different category.'

    The judgment wasn't about accidental contamination. He intentionally identified and planted seeds containing the modification patented by Monsanto.

  • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:11AM (#32138748) Homepage

    All that graph means is that Cuba has a relatively low population given it's agricultural production.

    If you were to include theoretically possible agricultural production, instead of actual, the US would be a lot better off than cuba :

    wolframalpha to the rescue [wolframalpha.com]

    In terms of sustainability, using the only metric that really matters (amount of sunlight over land per capita), the US is 3 times more sustainable than Cuba, which is about as sustainable as Europe (ie. Cuba and Europe need to kill at least half their population if they're to survive on their own, while the US could increase it's population by another 50% before problems start occuring).

    The additional snag is that 2.1 hectares per person is only a viable number assuming industrial agriculture. Traditional agriculture, or "bio" products, or "sustainable farming" need between 10 times and 100 times that. Assuming 10 times, that means that Europe and Cuba need to kill (or starve) just slightly over 95% of their populations and the US would need to kill (or starve) a little under 85% of the US population.

    So "sustainable agriculture" ? That ship has sailed, and is long gone over the horizon. I wonder how "greenies" think about this. Is it acceptable to kill 90% of all humans alive so that the remainder could be slightly healther (live 5 years longer) ? If one is to believe actions, clearly greenies believe this. Of course, in reality, I doubt they've even thought about it.

    On the other hand, Japan has survived now for about 60 years with less than 0.1 ha/capita, and is now approaching 0.04 ha/capita. Whatever the catches in that, it's possible.

    And there's always the technological option. The best plants are less than 2% efficient in collecting energy. Storing that energy is about 8% efficient (energy in ATP -> energy in starch). Eating those plants directly is less than 0.2% efficient. Eating plants gives human bodies about 2 millionth of the original solar power that went into producing what they ate. If we were to find a way to convert sunlight directly into sugar (or starch, or ... I'm in favor of starch, that would, after all, mean free beer) with an efficiency of 10%, 0.2 ha/capita should be easily attainable. If we can get 50% efficient at that, we could feed over 90000 trillion people.

    In addition, a sunlight -> oil process would only need to be 0.0001% efficient to match current oil output. If you could make that 10%, we could send every human alive today to the moon on holiday for a weekend every month.

  • Re:Hallelujah! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:22AM (#32138852) Homepage


    Or in short, everything is inferior about "green revolution" farming save for profit.

    How about price? When I've priced organic foods vs. non-organic foods, it's often times about twice the price. That may be all well and good for IT people who tend to make good wages, but for most people a 2 times jump in price isn't affordable.

  • Re:Weed... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bryansix (761547) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:38AM (#32139010) Homepage
    Great! That's just what we need. A whole nation of people strung out on cocaine all the time. Maybe when the price of cocaine comes down Coca-Cola will sneak it back into the recipe.
  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:55AM (#32139144) Journal

    Listen, he either pays Monsanto to certify his field is clear, or he pays Monsanto for their gene patents. Either way, he pays Monsanto.

    I prefer the "it's a witch!" method of testing.
    The farmer sprays his field with Roundup.
    If everything dies, he loses all his crops and doesn't have to pay Monsanto.
    If anything lives, he's a witch and has to license Monsanto's seeds.

    The dark ages weren't for nothing!

  • Re:Hallelujah! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sp3d2orbit (81173) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @11:04AM (#32139218)

    If this were true then every farmer would be doing it. There is no economic incentive to use a less efficient method of farming out of spite for the environment.

  • by TerranFury (726743) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @11:49AM (#32139568)

    Is it acceptable to kill 90% of all humans alive so that the remainder could be slightly healther (live 5 years longer) ?

    Almost.

    It is unacceptable to kill humans. It is however acceptable to reduce our birth rate to beneath our death rate -- something which has already occurred in industrialized nations. This admittedly has the unfortunate side effect of burdening the young with a disproportionate number of old people to care for, but in the long run I think it's the route to the highest average happiness.

    For the alternative -- a steady increase in population -- look what happens in societies where the number of people vastly outstrips the availability of resources and jobs (e.g., India). The result is a kind of hypercompetition that drives many people to emigrate to places with lower population densities and more jobs (e.g. the US, wealthy middle-eastern states, Europe). What happens when there's nowhere to emigrate to?

    If we don't reduce our population, your children will be fighting other peoples' children tooth and nail for their entire frantic lives.

  • by Darby (84953) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @11:54AM (#32139586)

    I dislike Monsanto as much as the average Slashdotter, but I dislike revisionism too. The farmer tested patches of his crop with Roundup and harvested and replanted those plants which were resistant.

    This is known as good farming practices which have been around for thousands of years and are the reason we have crops in the first place.

    Talk about revisionism..

  • nuts (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zogger (617870) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:56PM (#32140106) Homepage Journal

    That's just not true. Heavy chemical farming allows an individual farmer to grow on more acres with x amount labor, using what they call no till, but the yields are not all that impressive compared to good rich organic soil type growing. Now seed varieties make a difference, but square foot to square foot, given the same seeds, good healthy compost rich soil is outstanding. Shoot, I see that even with hay. Our fields, that get chicken litter fertilizer, consistently out perform the neighbors fields across the street, where he has the big chemical fertilizer spray truck come in. As to veggies and whatnot, I have had a good garden every year for the past..hmm..I guess 54 years now I have been gardening, and natural fertilizers work great and you get huge yields. It can be more labor intensive, but the yields are great.

    Hybrid type growing can work well, too, such as the use of heavy black plastic mulch, then drip irrigation with it.

    The secret to farming is healthy soil, with a rich humus layer. You are a soil farmer first, after that, the crops will "just work" mostly.

    There's a push on to incorporate biochar [wikipedia.org]* into soils, and I think that is something that should be done on a huge scale, using all that wood that just burns up anyway every summer in the western US. Really, I think as a massive stimulus project, looking at long term, not a this quarter megaprofits approach, but a national "commons" approach, this would be a great way to use resources that get wasted, create a lot of useful jobs, and gradually increase national food security. It should be one of our national priorities to not waste all that carbon from those huge fires (especially with all that wood being lost to the pine borer beetle [wikipedia.org] and other really bad invasive or destructive species) and get it back down deep into the soil, instead of just burning up at huge expense and loss. That makes loads more sense for the environment and to help insure global food supplies and "climate change" concerns than throwing trillions of dollars at those wall street gangsters to trade "carbon credits". What a crock that is. Let's put that same trillion into improving the soils instead of improving some penthouse millionaire's ferrari budget.

    *not quite biochar, but just so happens coincidently after I post this, I am on my mid day break right now, I am going out and roto-tilling in a pile of woodashes and charcoal clumps into one of my gardens.

  • by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @01:10PM (#32140220) Homepage Journal

    regardless of how he came across the original seeds

    Than Monsanto was negligent in putting a test field next to an actively farmed field of the same plant.

  • by osvenskan (1446645) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @01:20PM (#32140300)

    The additional snag is that 2.1 hectares per person is only a viable number assuming industrial agriculture. Traditional agriculture, or "bio" products, or "sustainable farming" need between 10 times and 100 times that.

    Citation needed, as the saying goes.

    Furthermore, industrial agriculture also has negative side effects (like the one in the TFA) that reduce our ability to produce food elsewhere. Another example is the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico [wikipedia.org] (unrelated to the recent and ongoing oil spill) which is largely a result of nutrient runoff from industrial ag. Cheap midwestern corn has a price not reflected in the tag on the shelf.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @01:28PM (#32140364)

    On the basis of this the court found that Schmeiser had either known "or ought to have known" that he had planted Roundup Ready canola in 1998.'

    'The courts at all three levels noted that the case of accidental contamination beyond the farmer's control was not under consideration but rather that Mr. Schmeiser's action of having identified, isolated and saved the Roundup-resistant seed placed the case in a different category.'

    The judgment wasn't about accidental contamination. He intentionally identified and planted seeds containing the modification patented by Monsanto.

    Doesn't the development of roundup-resistant weeds blow a huge hole that judgment's reasoning? The assumption in the Schmeiser case all along was that if he had canola crop which was resistant to Roundup, then everyone should have known it must have come from seeds containing Monsanto's patented genes. And that Mr. Schmeiser, by saving those seeds, deliberately kept and planted crop which he knew or should have known contained Monsanto's patents.

    Weeds developing the resistance naturally proves that plants can develop resistance to Roundup naturally. That means Mr. Schmeiser could not have known that the crop was in violation of Monsanto's patents since it could also have come about naturally.

  • by Urkki (668283) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @03:59PM (#32141436)

    With unemployment increasing every day, I would say that we are not lacking in manpower to pull the weeds by hand.

    Yeah, but unless you're paying those weed-pullers with bad food and worse housing, it's not economically possible. If you paid them enough money to live on, you couldn't sell your produce with profit and you'd go bankrupt. And it'll be hard to find qualified (ie. not too drunk or high, not too anti-social, not too crazy, and especially not too lazy) weed-pullers who'd settle for food and housing.

    Well, I guess it does depend if it's the weed you're really producing and the corn or whatever is just a cover... ;-)

  • by Abstrackt (609015) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @08:08PM (#32143190)

    With unemployment increasing every day, I would say that we are not lacking in manpower to pull the weeds by hand.

    Yeah, but unless you're paying those weed-pullers with bad food and worse housing, it's not economically possible. If you paid them enough money to live on, you couldn't sell your produce with profit and you'd go bankrupt. And it'll be hard to find qualified (ie. not too drunk or high, not too anti-social, not too crazy, and especially not too lazy) weed-pullers who'd settle for food and housing.

    Well, I guess it does depend if it's the weed you're really producing and the corn or whatever is just a cover... ;-)

    I grew up on a farm and pulling weeds was the only way to get them out; all the chemicals available would destroy the crop as well. The job paid minimum wage and there was still a decent profit margin on the product. There were so many people looking for work that even though we were up front about the intense physical labor involved (walking for miles each day, bending repeatedly, pulling, hot weather, etc.) they came in droves. Some of them quit after an hour, some just disappeared for a few days and returned on payday, some just ended up in the field one morning and were hired on the spot.

    You'd be surprised how low the qualifications for the job are, you just need to be able tell the difference between the crop and the weeds and have a good back. It's work, it's money and almost anyone can do it, which is exactly why you'll always find people to do it.

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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