ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

23 August 2002


1. Roundup-resistant weeds add to Monsanto's quotient of woe
2. Monsanto Wound Up


1. Farm News from Cropchoice

An alternative news service for American farmers
Roundup-resistant weeds add to Monsanto's quotient of woe
by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor

(Aug. 23, 2002 -- CropChoice commentary) -- Astoundingly, Monsanto continues to say that it's marketing herbicide-resistant crops to help farmers and the environment.  But reality, including a Tennessee weed problem, puts the lie to that.

By way of review, Monsanto claims that its Roundup Ready soybeans, corn, cotton and canola -- genetically engineered to resist the Roundup weed killer -- are good because farmers can spray just Roundup to kill weeds without hurting the crops.  The end result is less herbicide usage and a greener world.

If only it was true.


Monsanto executives in July chalked up a portion of the company's financial woes -- the stock had hit a 52-week low of about $13 a share, and still hasn't much recovered following its spin-off from parent Pharmacia Corp. -- to lackluster Roundup sales in the spring.

Michael Doane, a Monsanto executive, said in a speech last year that the company's cornerstone is not biotechnology.  It's the sale of Roundup. The idea is for farmers to use lots of glyphosate (active ingredient in the herbicide) over lots of acreage. See CropChoice story about this at

Farmers are doing just that.  But there are consequences.

University of Tennessee scientists have documented marestail weed resistance to Roundup on hundreds of thousands of soybean and cotton acres in the state.  As farmers have planted more and more Roundup Ready varieties since 1996, they've been spraying more of the weed killer, not less.  This has contributed to weeds developing resistance to Roundup.
Reports by the Canadian Wheat Board
( and Dr. Charles Benbrook ( document this.

Even Syngenta admits to the problem as it hawks an herbicide -- GramoxoneÆ MAX -- that it says will complement Roundup.  According to its website
"It's the Achilles heel of every herbicide. It's weed resistance. If you use an herbicide on a continuous basis, a weed population can build up resistance to that compound and no longer be the effective tool it once was.  Glyphosate herbicides are no exception to this rule of nature. And the conditions for resistance are right, given the compoundís fast-growing popularity as an over-the-top post-emergence herbicide in Roundup Ready crop systems... Glyphosate herbicides are being used frequently and on many acres... Weed resistance to glyphosate is more than theory. It's a real on-farm problem... we demonstrate marestail resistance to glyphosate herbicides and show how GramoxoneÆ MAX can not only control this weed but also provide the foundation for an overall resistance management strategy."

This is among the challenges that face Monsanto and the entire biotechnology industry.

Can Monsanto handle life without Pharmacia?  How will it react to farmer and consumer rejection of the idea of Roundup Ready wheat?  How will it and others cope with the technology being locked out of Europe and Brazil over the next few years?

With the realization that capturing the hearts and dollars of farmers isn't enough, the industry is rushing to develop products that it thinks will appeal to consumers.  Those include plants with genes containing vitamins and drugs.

Maybe Monsanto should shorten its independence and merge with Syngenta. To persuade the farmers, they could engineer wheat, corn and other crops with resistance to three, four or five herbicides -- a new one for each year that weed resistance develops.  For those consumers, insert multi-vitamin genes, maybe some gingko for peace of mind, a contraceptive and a painkiller.
Also on CropChoice:
 Tyson cancels contracts, USDA to investigate;
 EU declines to persuade African nations that biotech food aid is safe;
Scientists point out risks of genetically modified animals;
 Beetle pheromone lures both sexes;
 Syngenta wants to win over consumers with biotech rice for dialysis
 ACGA testifies before Senate on need of disaster assistance;
 FAO study: World population headed for 8 billion;


2. Monsanto Wound Up

This is from the the delightful Irish organic website that Prof Trewavas threatened to sue into oblivion if they didn't retract a piece that referred to him as 'The Lying Professor'. They didn't retract.
21th August 2002
Monsanto Wound Up

Poor Monsanto, they are getting very wound up these days. Nobody loves them anymore. Not even their own parent company, gigantic Pharmacia, who have just spun off their holdings of the wobbly ABC (Ag Biotech Corp) to shareholders.

Chief Executive Hendrik Verfaillie said, in perhaps the understatement of the week, that Monsanto needed to be  more transparent about its growth assumptions; "We are assuming no progress in Europe until 2005."

Profits for 2002 are predicted to be down by over 30%. Monsanto Ireland head, Paddy Riley (interview RTE Radio 1, 21st August) said that sales of GM seeds in Europe  were 'lagging'. He went on to say, that this is due to political considerations and not because of any inherent problems with the technology. Of course! Europe is so backward in not accepting this feed-the-world technology.

We Europeans are such an ungrateful lot of pinkos! And now our Luddism, so they tell us, is causing  African countries to refuse GM grain aid. Zambia has just joined Zimbabwe and Mozambique in refusing the 'poisoned  chalice' (NGIN) of the ABCs offerings.
Sales of Monsanto's billion-dollar-earner weedkiller Roundup could be crucial in deciding the future fate of the  GM-pushing corporation. A blip in the progress of Roundup Ready GM crops could cause sales of the herbicide to dive. On top of that, the patent on Roundup, their best-selling brand accounting for almost 45% of revenues, has just expired in the US.
And other prospects for the GM industry are looking decidely shaky these days too as the activism of anti-GM protesters seems finally to be seeping through to major policy makers.   Michael Meacher, British AgMin, said on Monday that "Britain would not be 'bounced' into accepting GM crops by the US".

Another British AgMin (yes, there are multiple AgMins in Britain - Margaret Beckett is the top-of-the-pile senior one) Elliot Morley also said this week: "There is enormous international pressure to allow GM crops and seeds into this country from the biotech companies.They are going through national govs and the WTO and pressuring the EU " (and of course there is a trade war being threatened by the US unless we accept their GM products).

Brazil has stood up to the ABCs too and has imposed a moratorium on GM crops until 2005.

The scales have been lifted from their eyes, helped not a little by the unrelenting and intelligent activism of groups especially in the UK, Ireland and the rest of Europe. The report last week that GM crop trials in England were contaminated with unauthorised anti-biotic bearing genes was a further nail in Frankenfood's coffin.

It is heartening to see that at least some in the UK gov - and further afield - will no longer be the pushover they have allowed themselves to be to the political and economic influences of the increasingly desperate transnational ABCs.

for much more on the problems facing the beleaguered GM industry and its friends Prakash, Trewavas etc see

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