Tuesday, August 04, 2020

New engineered seed resists five different pesticides, but scientists question chemicals' future role in weed control

"A new genetically engineered corn seed designed by Bayer to be sprayed by up to five herbicides could represent the future of farming, providing growers with more pesticides to combat the problem of weed resistance," Jonathan Hettinger reports for The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. "But for how long? That’s the question raised by weed scientists, who say farmers need to start switching to non-chemical options to keep weeds under control." The new seed is resistant to glyphosate, glufosinate, dicamba, 2,4-D and quizalofop.

Weed resistance has become a big problem for U.S. growers over the past 50 years, and "the problem has increased significantly since the introduction of genetically modified crops and use of accompanying herbicides in the 1990s," Hettinger reports. In essence, the presence of weedkillers has led weeds to adapt, resulting in a decades-long arms race. Some scientists say that weeds are developing resistance so quickly that a different long-term solution may be needed.

The growing use of pesticides has also triggered thousands of court cases—many successful—accusing pesticide makers of causing health problems and damaging non-resistant crops. "In June, Bayer announced a $10 billion settlement of claims that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, causes cancer," Hettinger reports. "The company also announced a $400 million settlement of claims that dicamba, a herbicide sold by Bayer and German agribusiness company BASF, has drifted and harmed thousands of other farmers."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed public comment for the seed petition on the Federal Register until July 7, drawing 4,112 comments, Hettinger reports.

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