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01.17 As Planet Heats Further, Even Davos Elite Warns Humanity Is 'Sleepwalking Into Catastrophe' [Intelligent government is desperately needed]
01.17 Could a Green New Deal Save Civilization? [Intelligent government is desperately needed]
01.16 Immediate fossil fuel phaseout could arrest climate change – study [Intelligent government is desperately needed]
01.15 Solar Farms Shine a Ray of Hope on Bees and Butterflies [Wonderful!]
01.14 V.A. Seeks to Redirect Billions of Dollars Into Private Care [The most public and efficient healthcare in America has been demonized and will be destroyed rather than improved, raising total per-capita costs]
01.14 Why thousands of Los Angeles teachers are going on strike [Well at least we got a big tax-cut for the super-rich, that was the most important thing.]
01.08 Monarch butterfly numbers plummet 86 percent in California [0:58 video; Do You Care?]
01.08 Carbon emissions up as Trump agenda rolls back climate change work [Making America Less Great Again]
News Media Matters
US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'
01.18 With Mattis Gone, Trump Is Already Sowing More Global Chaos [Trump plays General—what could go wrong...]
01.18 Impeach Donald Trump
01.18 President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project [An impeachable offense]
01.18 10 Things We All Lose If Bernie Chooses Not to Run in 2020 [Intelligent government is desperately needed]
01.17 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lambasts US government shutdown in first House speech [3:27 video; Intelligent government is desperately needed]
01.16 Bill Maher: If We Don’t Impeach President Donald Trump, Where Is The Bar? [9:49 video; Intelligent government is desperately needed]
01.16 With US 'Drilling Towards Disaster,' Report Warns Anything Less Than Urgent Green New Deal Will Be 'Too Little, Too Late' [Intelligent government is desperately needed]
01.16 Trump plans to relax Obama rules for oil companies put in place after BP disaster [Intelligent government is desperately needed]
01.16 Trump's war on science: how the US is putting politics above evidence [Consistently stupid and harmful policies... Seeing a pattern?]
01.16 Can Philadelphia 'stop people from dying' as drug crisis and gun violence rage on? [Whole country suffers from lack of effective federal policies... Seeing a pattern? P.S.: The answer is not a Wall!]
01.16 Why are more Americans than ever dying from drug overdoses? [graphs]
Economics, Crony Capitalism
01.17 Trump's economy is great for billionaires, not for working people [chock-full of pesky facts that government and media ignore and distort]
International & Futurism
01.17 White people assume niceness is the answer to racial inequality. It's not [More equality requires us to fix ignored and distorted problems]
01.16 Global tensions holding back climate change fight, says WEF [Consistently stupid and harmful policies... Seeing a pattern?]
Escalating the War on Weeds
Monday, 12 July 2010
Superweeds have evolved faster than anyone imagined—and with a vengeance.
A few weeks back, the New York Times made mention of an astounding development, which has, for whatever reason, received little fanfare or recognition. Despite its Vietnam War notoriety, Agent Orange is in vogue again, this time down on the farm. Its reemergence, and in this particular setting, raises a host of troubling questions that are not being well considered.
Over the past year, there have been increasing reports of emerging superweeds resistant to Roundup, the preferred weedkiller of America’s farmers. Roundup is sold in tandem with Roundup-ready seeds, both marquee products of the Monsanto Corporation. In the 1990s, when the latter product hit the market, it was momentous, revolutionary—a godsend: Roundup-ready seeds are genetically designed to resist application of the potent herbicide. By sowing Roundup-ready seeds and dousing their fields with the trademark weedkiller, farmers could forego the expense and toil of tilling the land, and losing valuable topsoil in the process. Production was enhanced, time and money saved. It was quite an economic boon to farmers, at least in the short run. Environmentalists were also pleased in light of the topsoil angle. Needless to say, Monsanto was thrilled that farmers were even more dependent on its products.
But for years critics ominously warned that, as is the nature of ‘nature,’ weeds would eventually evolve to withstand Roundup. Monsanto brushed aside such concerns, saying it would be ages before anyone had to worry about something like that. The glory days lasted about a decade. The superweeds evolved faster than anyone imagined—and with a vengeance. Farmers accustomed to drenching their fields with Roundup are now battling a monster breed of pigweed that, the New York Times reports, “can grow three inches a day and reach seven feet or more...so sturdy that it can damage harvesting equipment.”
Dow Chemical is working on seeds that are resistant to 24-D, a component of Agent Orange... presumably because it intends on spraying farmland with wartime defoliant.
Nature has issued quite a challenge to our ‘weed solution.’ The chemical industry has decided to respond in turn with Agent Orange. To be precise, Dow Chemical is working on seeds that are resistant to 24-D, a component of Agent Orange... presumably because it intends on spraying farmland with wartime defoliant.
This is alarming on a number of fronts. But let’s be clear on one thing at the outset: we don’t necessarily need Agent Orange to deal with weeds. The Amish don’t. Never have. Superweeds—like superbugs (or superbacteria) emerging in concentrated chicken farms—are the product of industrial agriculture, which aims to squeeze as much as possible from the land, and has selected monoculture as the optimal means of doing so. Grow one crop, in great density, on huge tracts of land, demanding tremendous output. Hence the Iowa corn fields, which stretch as far as the eye can see. There’s only one problem with this: nature does not ‘farm’ this way. Monoculture is highly vulnerable to pests, disease and weeds. In monocultivated fields, predators find a vast pool of identical, fat, helpless victims. In contrast, nature ‘farms’ a diversity of crops amidst one another, which do not succumb en masse to any given plague.
We have insisted on monoculture in order to produce as much as possible. Today, we’re able to extract 6 times more corn from an acre of land than 100 years ago. Industrial agriculture is to be commended for that impressive efficiency. And I know how its apologists—Dow and Monsanto included—would defend the institution and its manic drive for production. Industrial agriculture is necessary, they would say, to feed the world: you can’t feed upwards of six billion people by farming like the Amish.
Though I am not qualified to contest this claim fully, I can think of one important fact that casts doubt upon it. In this country, industrial agriculture’s immense bounty has wrought skyrocketing rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes. Agribusiness has not exactly harnessed its awesome technological advances to feed the world, but rather, to cram as many excess calories as possible into citizens of the industrial world. In particular, its bounty has subsidized a profusion of cheap fast and processed foods. Indeed, two of Monsanto’s most popular Round-up ready products are corn and soy, the building blocks of our processed foods.
So, it seems clear, at least in the US, industrial agriculture can step off the gas pedal. We could use an Amish revolution across the farm belt. If we adopted Amish style polyculture, our farms might well produce less. But would that be such a bad thing? Polyculture would certainly produce less of the staple commodities, corn and soy, and less processed food in turn. It would make for a healthier—lighter—nation.
But we cannot settle for less. We must have more.
We’re so hell-bent on maintaining our voracious consumption habits, that we’ll engage the services of the defense industry. We’ll use Agent Orange to fight off weeds and ensure the delivery of cheap corn to Frito-Lay, Coke and Kelloggs; and when megaweeds evolve to withstand Agent Orange—eighteen-foot-tall weeds, stems like tree trunks—we’ll reach for the napalm. ‘Napalm-ready’ soy; that’s our future.
Nature does not cut it in the USA. It fails on all fronts.
All in the name of productivity, efficiency, convenience—and profit. For you see, farming as nature ordains it fails on all fronts. Nature does not cut it in the USA.
We think nothing of wantonly poisoning the land on which we depend for sustenance. We have gravely degraded the rich topsoil of the Prairies, much of which has flowed down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico (and is now covered in a slick of oil, I presume). Our herbicides, pesticides and fungicides have stripped the land of natural nutrients, which we aim to supply in chemical doses. And when agricultural problems arise—problems that are the product of our industrial, chemical practices—we administer more of the same. Actually, I’m wrong: in the case of Agent Orange, we administer stronger poisons, as if we aim to twist Nature’s arm—as if we could. As if we could subdue her, and force her to do our bidding: ‘You WILL give us Cheetoes at 20 cents to the pound—or else!’
It is, of course, hubris. Not to mention tremendously short-sighted. What do we think, soaking the fields in Agent Orange? Surely, Dow must know that the very application of this chemical in strong, widespread and longterm doses is precisely the doom of this product: these are the very conditions that encourage—dare!—superweeds to evolve. So what are the chemical companies playing at? What’s the game plan? Do they intend to graduate to ever-more-potent and dangerous herbicides? Surely that can’t be sustainable. Or do they hope to mix and match chemical herbicides, to keep the weeds off balance? That seems marginally safer, at best. And does anyone know how these chemicals fare in the environment, once combined, over the course of years? Or is Dow simply aiming for Monsanto’s promised land, an herbicide-seed combination that will corner the market, and inflate company stock in the short run?
Besides the fact that we would use these chilling chemicals in the production of our food, no less. Agent Orange is accused of having caused birth defects in Vietnam, and increased rates of cancer among American veterans of the war there. Dow has disputed these claims. And yet, in light of Agent Orange’s reputation, it is surprising that Dow would press on with its use in food production nonetheless. This shows tremendous gall. Or shocking disrespect for the consumer.
Even if, as Dow argues, the harmful effects of Agent Orange are uncertain, why risk it? Why mess with this wartime defoliant when proven, though less obscenely prolific, farming methods beckon? In the end, it all comes back to us: what do we want? What do we demand of our food and farms? Do we demand piles of cheap, throwaway calories in toxic doses, which require us to squeeze nature mercilessly? Nature will not put up with this for long; as the superweeds attest, she’s already rebelling.
Firmin DeBrabander is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Maryland Institute College of Art.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on July 12, 2010.