Published on October 4th, 2012 | by James Ayre

GMO Herbicide-Resistant Crops Have Led To Massive Increases In Herbicide Use Thanks To 'Super Weeds,' Study Finds

Herbicide use in the agricultural production of three GMO herbicide-tolerant crops (cotton, soybeans and corn) has been significantly and rapidly increasing, according to new research from Washington State University.


It may sound counterintuitive to some people, but there have been warnings of just such a result since the beginning of GMO use in agriculture. The new findings are based on “an exhaustive analysis of publicly available data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service. Benbrook’s analysis is the first peer-reviewed, published estimate of the impacts of genetically engineered (GE) herbicide-resistant (HT) crops on pesticide use.”

The researchers show that the “emergence and spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds is strongly correlated with the upward trajectory in herbicide use.”

Glyphosate, marketed as ‘Roundup’ and various other trade names, is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide that is used to kill weeds primarily by blocking nutrient absorption.

“Approximately 95 percent of soybean and cotton acres, and more than 85 percent of corn, are planted to varieties genetically modified to be herbicide resistant,” a news release on the study stated.

“Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and they are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent,” Benbrook said.

There have been enormous increases in annual herbicide use in order to negate the emergence of ‘super weeds.’ 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to about 90 million pounds in 2011.

“Herbicide-tolerant crops worked extremely well in the first few years of use, Benbrook’s analysis shows, but over-reliance may have led to shifts in weed communities and the spread of resistant weeds that force farmers to increase herbicide application rates (especially glyphosate), spray more often and add new herbicides that work through an alternate mode of action into their spray programs.”

All of which makes a ton of sense when you think about it. Such a specific way to limit the growth of unwanted plants wouldn’t seem to be something you would look to as a long-term solution, not even factoring in the considerable environmental damage and damage to health that Roundup has been linked to.

The new research was just published in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal Environmental Sciences Europe.

Source: Washington State University
Image Credits: Weeds via Low Density Lifestyle; Washington State University

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About the Author

‘s background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

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