‘Superweeds’ Sprout Farmland Controversy over GMOs

First came "Frankenfood." Now we've got "superweeds."...

September 30, 2014 | Source: NBC News | by Mark Koba

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First came “Frankenfood.” Now we’ve got “superweeds.”

No, they aren’t a new, more powerful strain of marijuana. The rise in these so-called superweeds has happened, some argue, because of the increased use of more herbicide-resistant genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Weeds are developing resistance to herbicides, because the modified seeds can tolerate greater use of certain herbicides and pesticides. And it’s reportedly costing farmers $1 billion in lost crops.

“It is a crisis situation,” said Neil Harker, a weed ecologist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. “We’re losing the effectiveness of herbicide tools against weeds going forward.”

“I’m in favor of GMOs, but they should be used judiciously,” he said.

Others say the weed infestation is one more reason to avoid GMOs, also perjoratively known as “Frankenfoods,” altogether.

“We don’t need pesticide-resistant GMOs to control weeds. There are natural ways to fight them,” said Bill Freese, a science policy expert at the Center for Food Safety.

“The GMO industry likes to put a warm fuzzy glow on GMOs but we don’t see much use for them at all,” he argued.

Farmers like Bill Horan, who has 4,000 acres in northwest Iowa, believe GMO seeds are irreplaceable, however. “We’ve used GMO corn seeds for decades and they’re a great product,” said the 66-year-old Horan. “It’s always a battle with weeds but with the new seeds, the pesticides work better,” he said.

$1 billion in damages

The newest genetically modified corn and soybeans were developed by Dow AgroSciences, a division of Dow Chemical. They are to be sold under the brand Enlist Weed Control System.

The seeds can tolerate glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, as well as the lesser used herbicide called 2,4-D.

While approved by the USDA on Sept. 17, the seeds still need the go-ahead from the Environmental Protection Agency for their herbicide-resistant formula. That approval is expected, according to experts, with the seeds going to market in 2015.