Several weeks ago, The New York Times wrote a jaw-dropping story called “Attack of the Superweeds: Herbicides are losing the war — and agriculture might never be the same again.” This piece reaffirmed what all of us in organic have known for a long time; that GMOs and their accompanying pesticides — which includes herbicides and insecticides — comprise an agricultural platform that just doesn’t work.
And to have one of the country’s most influential newspapers acknowledge this is an incredibly momentous occasion, something that should not go unnoticed by anyone.
The story centers around superweeds. These are weeds that have been sprayed with highly toxic chemicals over many years. Yet, instead of dying off, they have gone in the opposite direction — adapted, become stronger and grown impervious to whatever herbicides are sprayed on them, thereby earning the moniker “superweeds.” As the NYT points out, we have reached a point where the chemical companies have completely run out of answers, and no savior product is in development. There is nothing left. It’s over.
For Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety, none of this comes as a surprise.
“There was a myth that we could eradicate the weeds, pests, bugs and fungi permanently and that this strategy was viable for industrial agriculture. It was based on a 2nd-grade science class delusion, which worked in a surprisingly effective manner for farmers, the media and corporations. However, it was completely flawed from the outset, and the entire basis for industrial agriculture is now falling apart. This is the beginning of the end.”
Industry experts believe that this proverbial beginning of the end was because of dicamba, a super-toxic herbicide that has caused immeasurable harm and torn apart the social fabric of farming communities across the country.
Not only does it destroy off-target crops, but it is very volatile and is not easily controlled when sprayed. This herbicide is so dangerous that some farmers are forced into planting dicamba-resistant crops because it is their only means of protection when their farms are inevitably damaged from the chemical being sprayed by their neighbors.
In Arkansas alone this past summer, 650,000 acres of soybeans were damaged by dicamba. Similar issues are have been playing out throughout the South and Midwest over many years, including the reported 3.6 million acres of soybean crops not genetically engineered to resist the notoriously drift-prone herbicide that were damaged in 2017. The acrimony has been so strident that an Arkansas man shot a fellow farmer because of dicamba contamination and was sentenced to 24 years in prison for murder.
Amidst the millions of acres of contamination and state plant boards fielding thousands of complaints, the 9th Circuit of Appeals overturned the EPA’s approval of dicamba in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Food Safety and other groups.
“This dicamba case is about herbicide drift, the unsustainability of the GMO seed and pesticide package, and the nightmare it is causing to our agricultural system,” said George Kimbrell, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. “The New York Times can’t ignore it anymore, and it is no coincidence that the newspaper referenced this case in the very first sentence of its article.”
AN EVOLUTIONARY TRUTH
While The New York Times does mention a few very low-probability, non-chemical solutions to deal with superweeds, such as gene-drive projects, it doesn’t specifically suggest what many of us believe is the only true answer to invasive weeds and pests: organic and regenerative farming.
But getting conventional farmers to make this switch will not be an easy endeavor, particularly since it requires a completely different skill set and transitioning to organic takes three years. Furthermore, as long as conventional farmers are not experiencing total crop failure and can generate some profits, albeit less than what they had been making in the past, many will continue with the same process.
Industry observers caution that farmers should not be the only ones to blame for this situation.
“We are all responsible for what is happening,” put forth Léa Vereecke, Midwest Organic Crop Consultant at Rodale Institute. “Consumers want cheap food, which means using herbicides from Big Ag. We all could have done more, such as eating a more diversified diet and asking politicians to stop subsidizing corn.”
In the end, however, the NYT story is an admission of an evolutionary truth that can no longer be denied.
“This will force everyone to transform industrial ag to a system that is mutually enhancing. We must be in partnership with nature, not trying to eradicate it,” said Andrew Kimbrell.
Max Goldberg, Founder
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