After more than four decades, the exponentially growing use of Monsanto's Roundup has caused the evolution of “superweeds” that are no longer affected by the controversial herbicide's active ingredient, glyphosate. This has resulted in what a recent Washington Post story described as an “arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weed killers.”
The development of a “low volatility” version of an old standby, dicamba, represents the latest escalation in that arms race. However, experts have now been forced to acknowledge that dicamba is causing far more problems than glyphosate. Furthermore, this was predicted more than a dozen years ago. A 2004 assessment of dicamba found that it was “75 to 400 times more dangerous to off-target plants” than glyphosate – yet the Environmental Protection Agency went ahead and approved the new dicamba formulation anyway.
The results have been devastating. So far, dicamba has destroyed over three million acres of soybeans this year – representing four percent of all soybean acreage in the U.S. As of the end of September, the American Soybean Association reported over 2200 complaints of dicamba-related damage in 21 states across the country – and organization president Ron Moore says, “We expect that number to continue to rise.”
This raises a serious question: if dicamba was known to be more dangerous than glyphosate as far back as 2004, why was it approved? According to the Washington Post story, a number of experts said the approval was given without sufficient data on dicamba volatility. However, Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute says the warning signs have been there practically from the beginning.
“When they first came out with seeds that were genetically engineered to resist glyphosate, the question wasn’t if – the questions was when would these crops develop resistance to this almost universally used herbicide,” Kastel noted. In a 2013 report on five different commonly-used herbicides, Scientific American noted that “glyphosate resistance, once deemed unlikely, rose after genetically engineered crops were introduced in the mid-1990s.”
Kastel says, “There were warning flags raised before these materials and crops became widely adopted, and they were ignored.” Given Monsanto's history with the EPA, it's not difficult to see why.
Soybeans are not the only victims of dicamba drift. It has affected a number of other crops as well as some tree species. NPR reports that as a result, honeybee populations are being wiped out. In areas where dicamba has been applied, the production of honey has fallen by as much as 50% as plants that bees depend upon have been killed.
The grim long-term implications for our food supply should be clear to anyone who understands basic biology.
The worst part of this ongoing tragedy is that dicamba is turning out to be just as ineffective as glyphosate. Increasingly, farmers are discovering that palmer amaranth, or “pigweed” – the primary nemesis of soy crops – can develop dicamba resistance in just a few seasons. A senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, Nathan Donley, describes it as “a road to nowhere,” adding, “The next story is resistance to a third chemical, and then a fourth chemical – you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where that will end.”