How Monsanto Supersized a Problem in Under Three Minutes

, , senior analyst, Food and Environment | May 13, 2014, 10:00 am EDT
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Well actually, it took about 5 years for our friends at the Monsanto Company to start turning regular old weeds into a crisis of “superweeds.” But they did it, and another decade on, farmers everywhere are paying the price. Now, using the magic of speed-drawing, we’ve taken this age-old tale of weedy villains and chemical “superheroes” (with fatal flaws), and boiled it down to just 2:29.

As we make clear in our video (and the policy brief behind it), Monsanto pursued a profit-driven strategy with its Roundup Ready seed and herbicide system, even though it knew or should have known how it would turn out. The resulting crisis of resistant weeds is plaguing farmers on millions of acres across the country.

Now, Monsanto and its corporate rivals, including Dow Agrosciences (a subsidiary of Dow Chemical), are hoping we don’t notice that the new solutions they’re proposing look a lot like the last one.

Just two weeks ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated that it plans to green-light a request from Dow to market a new herbicide product made up of the active ingredient in Roundup plus an older, more toxic weed-killer known as 2,4-D. Dow will market this herbicide cocktail, known as Enlist Duo, with corn and soybean seeds designed to tolerate it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which also must approve the new engineered seeds, has indicated that it will do so, probably in the next few months. Monsanto has requests for similar seed and multi-herbicide systems in the pipeline as well.

Will the real superheroes please stand up?

As the USDA implements reauthorized research grant programs and Congress allocates taxpayer money to fund them, they shouldn’t buy more corporate money-makers masquerading as superheroes. Instead, they should prioritize sustainable agriculture research to find lasting solutions to weeds and other farming challenges.

Write to your Congressional representatives and ask them to help scientists and farmers be the real heroes in the battle against superweeds. Click here to send your letter, and share our video today!


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  • The war-profiteering chemical companies needed a new lucrative industry to jump on. Owning the food supply through patents – what could possibly be a bigger money-maker than that?

    These same chemical companies also engineer their crops to be sold alongside patented pesticides.

    Increased pesticide sales = more $$$.
    Increased patented seed sales = more pesticides required.

    See the circle?

    IMO it would be naive of us to presume that “superweeds” – which require new, stronger pesticides and increased applications – is a “bad thing” in the eyes of its creators. While it is a glaring problem for consumers, it means increased sales for the profiteers.

    Overall the demonstrated theme of such biotech companies has been to interject themselves into a natural circle of life that does not require their presence. IE an heirloom tomato will net 30+ viable seeds, which can be propagated for free to create 30 new tomato plants. Those 30 new plants will bear 20-30+ tomatoes each, with each tomato bearing 30 new seeds. Without having a third party to control or profit over you, a farmer could propagate thousands of tomato plants from what began as one single tomato.

    Now, companies like Monsanto enter the picture and instead of people sustainably farming and producing food within the framework of nature… They own the tomato, its seeds, you cannot re-seed, you cannot save seeds, you must BUY new seed each year… It goes on and on.

    GM crops and their farming methods are the complete opposite of “sustainability.”

  • Michael Kovach

    Any person with a high-school level biology education knows that plant pests/pathogens are going to develop resistance to the control measures against them–be they chemical or genetic controls. It’s an evolutionary arms race–similar to the development of antibiotic resistance by human pathogens. So yes–biotechnology companies knew very well that resistance would develop–it was not a matter of if, but when. That is why the biotech companies make farmers sign agreements to abide by proper weed management guidelines–to slow the development of resistance (not prevent…but slow).

    The stacking of multiple herbicide resistance traits into row crops is actually a really smart idea. If the chances of a weed developing resistance to one herbicide are 1 in a million, the chances of a weed developing resistance to two different herbicides are 1 in a million TIMES 1 in a million (or 1 in a TRILLION!). Now imagine stacking 3 herbicide traits…and you see that this is a really smart way of preventing “superweeds”.

    That said, given enough time–there will be weeds that develop resistance to multiple herbicide stacks. So the question becomes: do we forge ahead with technological progess and continue the arms race…or do we give up, let the weeds win, and go back to weed control measures of 100 years ago?

    • Michael, thanks for your comment. Luckily, we don’t have to choose between continuing the “arms race,” as you put it so well, or going back to the past. That’s because science has advanced a lot over the last 100 years.

      As I have written about on this blog (, today’s leading agroecological researchers are showing that modern diversified farming systems can control weeds while slashing herbicide use and enhancing yields and profits. More investment in these systems would help farmers get out of the arms race for good.

  • How is it Monsanto’s fault when some farmers failed to use integrated pest management?

    The video also fails to mention tillage as a non-chemical approach to weed management. Of course tillage is far worse for the environment than glyphosate, but it needs to be mentioned in any discussion of the alternatives to chemical weed control.

    • Marc, thanks for your comment. I think it is Monsanto’s fault because they knew that over-reliance on Roundup with their Roundup Ready system would produce the serious resistance problem we are seeing today. But it was in their interest to encourage farmers to keep using more and more. And now Monsanto and Dow can try to sell farmers a whole new line of products as the “solution” to a problem they caused in the first place.
      Of course, farmers were led down this path not only by Monsanto, but by farm policies that incentivize an oversimplified, mono-crop style of agriculture that is highly vulnerable to weeds and pests. That’s why we’re advocating for more public investment in research and incentives that would help farmers adopt more sophisticated practices and systems, preventing problems like superweeds from occurring in the first place.