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March 5th, 2013

Rocket Docket 2: USDA’s Futile Attempt to Fight Fire with Fire in Weed Resistance Battle

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

By Genna Reed

Industry currently estimates that at least 60 million acres of crops are now resistant to at least one herbicide. Almost half of the U.S. farmers interviewed in an industry survey reported that glyphosate-resistant weeds, and the rate at which the weeds are spreading, are increasing every year. In Georgia, a staggering 92 percent of the surveyed farmers reported having glyphosate-resistant weeds in 2012.

And even though weed scientists clamor for alternative solutions and diversified approaches to weed management to avert further damage, industry and the USDA seem to believe that simply throwing more herbicides and associated herbicide-tolerant crops at the problem is the solution. There are currently 19 GE crop petitions that have been submitted for approval by the USDA. Of those 19 crops, 14 are resistant to herbicides. You might remember that a handful of these crops were introduced in the form of a rocket docket of 12 new petitions last July.

Just when we had gotten over the trauma of the last slew of incoming petitions, the end of February brought on a second wave when USDA announced the comment periods for seven new crops and approved another. Among the seven are new, stacked herbicide-tolerant crops designed to fight glyphosate-resistant weeds that have developed since Roundup Ready crops were introduced in 1996, which led to the almost exclusive use of glyphosate for weed control.

One of the crops with a 60-day comment period ending in April is Monsanto’s dicamba and glufosinate tolerant cotton. Dicamba belongs to the same herbicide class as 2,4-D: synthetic auxins. By design, these herbicides act similarly to growth regulators in several species of broadleaf plants, causing abnormal growth and death. This would be less egregious if it stayed put, but since dicamba and 2,4-D are especially prone to drift, any specialty crops—like tomatoes, grapes and potatoes—that are near fields sprayed with these herbicides could be in danger of herbicide-related yield loss.

And just when you think USDA might have learned its lesson with glyphosate, one of the 30-day comment periods is for a draft Environmental Assessment for yet another glyphosate-tolerant corn. Apparently the glyphosate lesson has somehow still not been learned. Not only that, but simultaneously introducing more herbicides into the mix will just fan the proverbial wildfire that is herbicide-resistant weeds.

While this may sound too senseless to believe, these herbicide-laden crops could glide right through approval unless we let the USDA know we’re watching and we’re not going to let them repeat the same mistakes that got us into this superweed mess in the first place.

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