Monsanto wrapup: Resistant weeds and worse

The world’s greatest commons and the one on which we all depend for our very lives is the realm of plants with which we coevolved, the heart of great, green food chain that sustains all animal whether directly [herbivores] or converted into meat through the prey of the carnivores.

That’s why the reason for our ongoing concern with the relentless efforts of the modern corporation to transform the global food commons into corporate intellectual property, with the goal of transforming every single item of food — whether grown in our own gardens or purchased from store bins and shelves — into a lucrative profit center for the enrichment of the corporate elite who are gathering the world’s wealth into their hands at an ever-accelerating rate.

At the forefront of this effort is Monsanto, a key player in the agroindustrial complex, which is premised on the notion of turning farmers into corporate serfs, dependent on the corporation both for their seeds and for the chemicals used to kills competing plants and critters.

Monsanto employs two fundamental strategies in the war on independent farmers, both reliant on genetically modified the seeds they peddle.

Nature fights back with ‘suprweeds’

Monsanto’s first strategy is to tweak the chromosomes of seeds with genes that render the plants resistant to the weed-killing chemicals they sell, peddling their GMOs as Roundup resistant, Roundup being the name of their most famous weed-killer, otherwise known as glyphosate.

The main problem now faced by farmers is the other great gene-tweaker, nature, who has evolved plants that are equally glyphosate-resistant, at least sometimes by incorporating the genes from Monsanto’s patented crops. [There’s a certain irony in this natural strategy, given that Monsanto relentlessly sue farmers who don’t but their seeds but sell crops that happen to include the Monsanto-engineered genes.]

The glyphosate-resistant plants [weeds, the name we give what James H. Craft, or college botany prof, called “plants out of place”] have become a major problem for farmers, as our first two items report.

First, from Jennifer Shike of Checkbiotech:

More incidences of severe corn rootworm injury to Bt corn have been observed in northwestern and north central Illinois, said University of Illinois Extension entomologist Mike Gray.

Gray said the affected fields share some common features — corn has been grown without rotation and the Bt hybrids used have expressed the Cry3Bb1 protein for many successive years.

Gray answered a few questions to help producers make informed decisions before selecting 2012 seed.

How widespread is corn rootworm injury to Bt corn that expresses the Cry3Bb1 protein?

Producers who are unhappy with the level of root protection afforded by these corn rootworm Bt hybrids should contact their industry representatives.

As more information is generated, a more accurate assessment of this situation can be made, Gray said.

Read the rest.

Next, from a roundup [pun intended] of the superweed problem from Clea Calcutt of FRANCE 24:

“Superweeds” are plaguing high-tech Monsanto crops in southern US states, driving farmers to use more herbicides, return to conventional crops or even abandon their farms.

How has this happened? Farmers over-relied on Monsanto’s revolutionary and controversial combination of a single “round up” herbicide and a high-tech seed with a built-in resistance to glyphosate, scientists say.

Today, 100,000 acres in Georgia are severely infested with pigweed and 29 counties have now confirmed resistance to glyphosate, according to weed specialist Stanley Culpepper from the University of Georgia.

“Farmers are taking this threat very seriously. It took us two years to make them understand how serious it was. But once they understood, they started taking a very aggressive approach to the weed,” Culpepper told FRANCE 24.

“Just to illustrate how aggressive we are, last year we hand-weeded 45% of our severely infested fields,” said Culpepper, adding that the fight involved “spending a lot of money.”

In 2007, 10,000 acres of land were abandoned in Macon country, the epicentre of the superweed explosion, North Carolina State University’s Alan York told local media.

Had Monsanto wanted to design a deadlier weed, they probably could not have done better. Resistant pigweed is the most feared superweed, alongside horseweed, ragweed and waterhemp.

“Palmer pigweed is the one pest you don’t want, it is so dominating,” says Culpepper. Pigweed can produce 10,000 seeds at a time, is drought-resistant, and has very diverse genetics. It can grow to three metres high and easily smother young cotton plants.


According to the UK-based Soil Association, which campaigns for and certifies organic food, Monsanto was well aware of the risk of superweeds as early as 2001 and took out a patent on mixtures of glyphosate and herbicide targeting glyphosate-resistant weeds.

“The patent will enable the company to profit from a problem that its products had created in the first place,” says a 2002 Soil Association report.

Read the rest.

Monsanto’s second strategy, built-in killers

The other arm of Monsanto’s approach involves a strategy for killing the critters that feed on plants by building in proprietary genes that trigger the plant to produce killer toxins the company assures regulators and the public won’t harm humans.

The toxin in question is the one produced by Bacillus thuringiensis, giving Monsanto’s patented plants a Bt designation.

But an increasing body of evidence indicates that the toxin produced by the Bt crops may not be so benign.

There’s an excellent summary of the research in the open source journal Environmental Sciences Europe, posted online here.

Here’s the abstract from Gilles-Eric Séralini, Robin Mesnage, Emilie Clair, and Steeve Gress of the University of Caen, , and Joël Spiroux de Vendômois of CRIIGEN [Comité de recherche et d’information indépendantes sur le génie génétique], and Dominique Cellier of the University of Rouen:

Purpose: We reviewed 19 studies of mammals fed with commercialized genetically modified soybean and maize which represent, per trait and plant, more than 80% of all environmental genetically modified organisms (GMOs) cultivated on a large scale, after they were modified to tolerate or produce a pesticide. We have also obtained the raw data of 90-day-long rat tests following court actions or official requests. The data obtained include biochemical blood and urine parameters of mammals eating GMOs with numerous organ weights and histopathology findings.

Methods: We have thoroughly reviewed these tests from a statistical and a biological point of view. Some of these tests used controversia l protocols which are discussed and statistically significant results that were considered as not being biologically meaningful by regulatory authorities, thus raising the question of their interpretations.

Results: Several convergent data appear to indicate liver and kidney problems as end points of GMO diet effects in the above-mentioned experiments. This was confirmed by our meta-analysis of all the in vivo studies published, which revealed that the kidneys were particularly affected, concentrating 43.5% of all disrupted parameters in males, whereas the liver was more specifically disrupted in females (30.8% of all disrupted parameters).

Conclusions: The 90-day-long tests are insufficient to evaluate chronic toxicity, and the signs highlighted in the kidneys and livers could be the onset of chronic diseases. However, no minimal length for the tests is yet obligatory for any of the GMOs cultivated on a large scale, and this is socially unacceptable in terms of consumer health protection. We are suggesting that the studies should be improved and prolonged, as well as being made compulsory, and that the sexual hormones should be assessed too, and moreover, reproductive and multigenerational studies ought to be conducted too.

And for more reports on the growing global resistance to Monsanto, see the British site Combat Monsanto and this summary of some of their posts from a New Zealand blog, Questoes. Another good source in Indian Agrarian Crisis.


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