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From September 27, 2006                                                                                                        

Roundup Ready Soybeans Contribute to Glyphosate-Resistant Weeds
(Beyond Pesticides, September 27, 2006) Genetic engineering (GE), a controversial subject in the agricultural industry, is becoming more so for Argentinean soybean growers as species of unwanted plants are becoming resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. GE soybeans cover half the arable land in Argentina and make up ninety-eight percent of the country’s soybean crop.

The soybeans, marketed as Roundup Ready (RR) and patented in Europe by the Monsanto Company, are modified to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, and are used to enable growers to spray entire fields with Roundup rather than spot-applying the herbicide to unwanted plants. According to Monsanto, “Outstanding yields and reduced input costs mean that Roundup Ready soybeans, used in a Roundup Ready system, offer growers more profit opportunities than conventional soybeans.”

What this marketing has created is an agricultural system saturated with glyphosate. Charles Benbrook, agronomist, conducted a study in Argentina in 2005 and concluded, “Argentina is placing its future economy and food security in danger by choosing to ignore the ecological downside of such heavy reliance on a no-till, herbicide-based system. They are going to run into serious problems.”

This prediction is already being felt, as there are at least eight weed species in the country that have built up a resistance to glyphosate, led by johnsongrass, a variety found in some parts of the United States. Especially as Monsanto prepares to release its RR2 soybean, which is expected to be widely used in the US, this may be cause for concern.

Bob Scott, Arkansas Extension weed specialist, called the finding “significant,” and acknowledged that "Johnsongrass is a species that causes problems for us in Arkansas,” although “broadleaf signalgrass, barnyardgrass and others would probably be worse weeds to find glyphosate resistance in.”

Given the risks now associated with heavy use of GE soybeans, the question of their relative value presents itself. According to a 2004 study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Argentina’s soybeans yielded the lowest crude protein content of the five countries tested, while planting, almost exclusively, Monsanto’s RR soybeans. While crop yields may increase, even significantly, using RR soybeans, nutrient loss on a large scale would undermine their value, especially for human consumption.

More worrisome is the trend towards monoculture exhibited in Argentina. As RR soybeans have spread across the country, 34 million acres of jungle and savannah have been cleared for plantations. While farmers turn toward more pesticides to treat resistant weed species in their soybean fields, production of wheat, dairy, and fruit has dropped significantly, according to two researchers.

Beyond Pesticides is opposed to the use of genetically engineered crops. For more information, including ten reasons why they endanger our environment and our health, click here.