Superweeds: This Time, It’s Serious

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/theatrebhs/4497978559/">ISD 191</a>/Flickr

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Blogging has been light this week because I’ve been on vacation. But I can’t resist commenting on something that made me choke on my coffee this morning. While reading a news report on superweeds—weeds that have developed resistance to Roundup herbicide, from widespread use of Monsanto’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready seeds—I came across this passage:

McNeill says that in the Midwest and other areas of the country, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, weeds like water hemp, giant ragweed, lamb’s quarter and velvet weed have become Roundup resistant through natural selection, due to a particular genetic mutation that survived the poison and therefore reproduced successfully and wildly.

Wait, ragweed, the scourge of Maverick Farms, the western North Carolina farm where I work? And lamb’s quarters, the “wild green” (ok, weed) that we harvest and really enjoy eating all summer? I avoid buying genetically modified foods at the supermarket. Are we unwittingly inviting them into our kitchen through the backdoor?

I’ve been writing about “superweeds” for years now. It turns out—as any agricultural expert could have predicted—that when you douse millions of acres of farmland with the same weed-killing chemical several times a year for a decade, some of those weeds develop resistance to the chemical (and eventually, to the other poisons farmers deploy in their desperate zeal to control them).

But I’ve always written about the problem with a certain amount of detachment—I assumed that the Monsantoization of weeds was something that happened somewhere else, to some other kinds of weeds (like Roundup-resistant Palmer amaranth, a “nightmare” haunting cotton country in the South), not to the ones we grapple with in the field or (gulp) eat. It’s true that not much industrial agriculture takes place in our mountainous area; but plenty takes place to the south and east of us. It’s conceivable, I suppose, that our own stock of weeds could have become infected with Monsanto’s gene, spread by pollen carried by birds and/or wind.

So, is our despised ragweed now genetically modified? Are our beloved lamb’s quarters now Roundup Ready? I’ll try to figure it out when I get back from vacation.

MOTHER JONES NEEDS YOUR HELP

We have about a $170,000 funding gap and less than a week to go in our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign that ends Saturday. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

MOTHER JONES NEEDS YOUR HELP

We have about a $170,000 funding gap and less than a week to go in our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign that ends Saturday. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate