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First Superbugs, Now Superweeds

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the as-long-as-there-are-no-supersharks-we're-ok dept.

Biotech 435

Finxray writes "Years of heavy use of the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup has led to the rapid growth of superweeds. They are spreading throughout North America, creating headaches for farmers and posing 'the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,' according to Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts. From the article: 'The first resistant species to pose a serious threat to agriculture was spotted in a Delaware soybean field in 2000. Since then, the problem has spread, with 10 resistant species in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres, predominantly soybeans, cotton and corn. The superweeds could temper American agriculture’s enthusiasm for some genetically modified crops. Soybeans, corn and cotton that are engineered to survive spraying with Roundup have become standard in American fields. However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds."

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Death to Monsanto (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138372)

Yes. Death.

Re:Death to Monsanto (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138384)

financial death you mean?

Patent death would be fine, but... (3, Informative)

gerf (532474) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138438)

Monsanto is probably best known amongst the slashdot crowd for their patent litigation regarding gene patents

As for the weeds that show resistance, they've been known to exist for quite some time. Some weeds naturally react weakly to Round Up, and it's been common practice to include a quart/acre of Pursuit or some other chemical. It's a pain to deal with, but it's not impossible.

Monsanto v. Schmeiser (5, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138440)

When Monsanto can successfully sue you for patent infringement when a neighbor's seeds blow onto your land [wikipedia.org] , then yes, Monsanto needs to die. If "Roundup Ready" weeds are part of it, bring them on.

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (5, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138464)

seed nothing. Pollen is all it takes for the patented gene to cross into your fields.

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138568)

When Monsanto can successfully sue you for patent infringement when a neighbor's seeds blow onto your land, then yes, Monsanto needs to die. If "Roundup Ready" weeds are part of it, bring them on.

He wasn't sued because some seeds blew onto his land. He was sued because he harvested the product of those seeds and replanted 95% of his field with them the following year.

By your bizarre logic, the dude that found the iPhone prototype should have gained the right to duplicate and sell it.

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (5, Insightful)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138588)

And he's supposed to know that his crop was cross-pollinated with "patented" food just how? Not everyone can afford expensive testing of their crops.

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (4, Insightful)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138702)

And he's supposed to know that his crop was cross-pollinated with "patented" food just how? Not everyone can afford expensive testing of their crops.

Listen, he either pays Monsanto to certify his field is clear, or he pays Monsanto for their gene patents. Either way, he pays Monsanto. Also, he should pay an MPAA member while he's at it, I'm sure he had some IP running through his head during that time. And a bank, gotta pay the banks for the privilege of paying all those other folks.

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (5, Interesting)

BCW2 (168187) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138782)

This is why there is a case involving Monsanto's GM alfalfa going to the Supreme Court this term. An Idaho farmer wants to know how Monsanto can keep their product from infecting his "organic" crop.
Many people are afraid of possible side effects of the coming "frankenfoods". Since it is impossible to control pollen travel, the Idaho case will be interesting.

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (3, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139144)

Listen, he either pays Monsanto to certify his field is clear, or he pays Monsanto for their gene patents. Either way, he pays Monsanto.

I prefer the "it's a witch!" method of testing.
The farmer sprays his field with Roundup.
If everything dies, he loses all his crops and doesn't have to pay Monsanto.
If anything lives, he's a witch and has to license Monsanto's seeds.

The dark ages weren't for nothing!

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138816)

And he's supposed to know that his crop was cross-pollinated with "patented" food just how? Not everyone can afford expensive testing of their crops.

The test isn't very expensive at all. Just spray them with the pesticide in question, as Schmeiser did. If they survive, then you've got a winner.

And if you actually bothered to read the Wikipedia article, you would have seen that the case wasn't looking into the issue of accidental contamination, but whether he intentionally replaced his entire field with a crop he knew was patented, regardless of how he came across the original seeds. Which incidentally is the reason he lost the case.

Earth to slaver, slavery abolished (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138932)

  • you don't own my children,
  • you don't own my seeds
  • you don't own my grandchildren
  • ipods dont reproduce
  • if my franken-ipod reproduces, you STILL dont own the children
  • you should go have children with a campfire, make some firebabies

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (4, Interesting)

lerxstz (692089) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139042)

No, he had been saving and replanting his own seed for generations. Once his field was contaminated by monsanto's patented abominations (through no fault of his own) suddenly monsanto declared him a criminal.

An iPhone is not the same as seed.

What most people don't realize is that monsanto is not only patenting GM seed (which is bad enough; they have bought up hundreds of seed companies, closed them down and eliminated the seed. They replace the freely saveable seed with their own patented seed), but they have the audacity to patent regular seed. They go into public seed banks, searching through thousands upon thousands of seeds, looking for ones that haven't been patented yet and patent them. How can they get away with this you ask? Who gives them the right to co-opt a food source and claim it as theirs? Twisted patent laws and corrupt trade deals that's how. Large multi-national corporations influencing government legislation that's how.

Monsanto does need to die. See "The World according to Monsanto [films.nfb.ca] " for a detailed insight into the obscenity known as Monsanto. Also google around for "Seed Politics" and see for yourself why this needs to be stopped.

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (5, Informative)

garynuman (1666499) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139146)

When Monsanto can successfully sue you for patent infringement when a neighbor's seeds blow onto your land, then yes, Monsanto needs to die. If "Roundup Ready" weeds are part of it, bring them on.

He wasn't sued because some seeds blew onto his land. He was sued because he harvested the product of those seeds and replanted 95% of his field with them the following year.

By your bizarre logic, the dude that found the iPhone prototype should have gained the right to duplicate and sell it.

i hope to god you're trolling, in that particular case the farmer had been saving seed for his entire farming career, as many do (and a practice that monsatno is fighting tooth and nail with their so called terminator seeds, which are only viable for one generation) monsanto's seed blew into his field from passing farmers who used it, and against his desire his field was polluted with their product. Monsanto demanded he destroy his entire seed store, which he had been developing his entire life, because their product contaminated his field against his wishes. Not to mention, you iphone example is comically irrelevant, as there are many inherent differences between a living thing that spreads by itself and reproduces ITSELF and a goddamn cell phone, which, unlike canola, wouldn't exist if not constructed by humans. Your logic is flawed beyond defense perhaps you should have at least read up a little about the case before commenting. Maybe then you would have noticed that in 2008 monsanto settled with mr. schmeiser and agreed to pay the clean up cost of removing their product, which he never wanted in the first place, from his fields. He also was not forced to sign the standard monsanto gag order, and the window was left open for him to sue again, should their GM seed contaminate his fields again. This is also a nice precedent for those of us who don't much care for the GM agricultural business. Also who modded this comment interesting? it isn't.

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (5, Insightful)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138736)

'Regarding his 1998 crop, Schmeiser did not put forward any defence of accidental contamination. The evidence showed that the level of Roundup Ready canola in Mr. Schmeiser's 1998 fields was 95-98% (See paragraph 53 of the trial ruling). Evidence was presented indicating that such a level of purity could not occur by accidental means. On the basis of this the court found that Schmeiser had either known "or ought to have known" that he had planted Roundup Ready canola in 1998.'

'The courts at all three levels noted that the case of accidental contamination beyond the farmer's control was not under consideration but rather that Mr. Schmeiser's action of having identified, isolated and saved the Roundup-resistant seed placed the case in a different category.'

The judgment wasn't about accidental contamination. He intentionally identified and planted seeds containing the modification patented by Monsanto.

Re:Monsanto v. Schmeiser (1)

jefu (53450) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139012)

There's the solution then. Just have Monsanto sue everyone who gets superweeds on their property. Guaranteed win!

Weed... (3, Funny)

pablo_max (626328) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138380)

""Years of heavy use of the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup has led to the rapid growth of superweeds".

Quick..someone mix this "Superweed" with normal weed! They wont be able to make that illegal! We can't be stopped!

Re:Weed... (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138518)

Add in the biblical ever-burning bush, and they'll have to make breathing illegal!

Re:Weed... (1)

hvm2hvm (1208954) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138690)

>> they'll have to make breathing illegal
Better not to give them an excuse to do so...

Re:Weed... (4, Interesting)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138692)

"Years of heavy use of the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup has led to the rapid growth of superweeds".

Quick..someone mix this "Superweed" with normal weed! They wont be able to make that illegal! We can't be stopped!

It's already happening. Albeit with coca plants.
And the kicker? The new plants have 4x the potency of non-resistant strains.

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.11/columbia_pr.html [wired.com]
http://news.scotsman.com/latestnews/New-super-strain-of-coca.2559109.jp [scotsman.com]

Re:Weed... (2, Insightful)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139010)

Great! That's just what we need. A whole nation of people strung out on cocaine all the time. Maybe when the price of cocaine comes down Coca-Cola will sneak it back into the recipe.

Re:Weed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32139068)

Superbugs => Superweeds => Super big bags of taco chips!

Externalities, Monsanto, Michael Crighton (4, Interesting)

g8orade (22512) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138386)

Generally, we just don't understand all the externalities involved.
Hopefully, they don't lead to catastrophic circumstances.

Re:Externalities, Monsanto, Michael Crighton (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138446)

Farmers use Roundup (and associated resistant crops) because it is (financially...) cheaper and less risky than other methods, not because it has a huge impact on productivity. Newer uses of it are to reduce fertilizer use (no till and such).

So it isn't particularly likely to lead to a food shock (but I guess it could have some impact on prices, though I have no idea how large that would be).

Michael Crighton? Harry Harrison more like it (1)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138554)

The early stages of his Deathworld series. Native life adapts to fight the aggressor.

bad analogy (1)

slashnot007 (576103) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138622)

It's a weak analogy to compare super weeds to superbugs.  In the case of bugs we have a  huge limit.  There is only one species we are defending (us) and we can't just arbitrarily medicate ourselves.  With the plants we a defending, they are replanted every year, we can treat the soils and the plants arbitrarily, and even genetically modify the plants if crop rotation itself is not sufficient.  For example plant corn to share them for several years.

So I think we do understand  a lot of the externalities as far as the battle between wanted and unwanted plants goes.

The place where we don't understant the externalities is in the consequences outside that battle.  Will BT plants also kill good bugs or bugs that birds like to eat?  Will pesticide runoff get in the fish we eat or water we drink?  Will putting animal proteins in plants someday create prions?

whacked slashdot text format (1)

slashnot007 (576103) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138636)

Why does slashdot make my comments formatted in courier font?

Re:whacked slashdot text format (1)

Thiez (1281866) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138790)

Your comment post mode is set to 'code'?

Just one inconvenient graph... (5, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138396)

Re:Just one inconvenient graph... (2, Funny)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138714)

Re:Just one inconvenient graph... (2, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138934)

Yeah, it seems they are doing something right, if they manage to remain sustainable while at the same time having quite decent standard of living.

But this, unfortunatelly, leads to a sad conclusion - societies and nations can act responsibly, in those matters, mostly only when they are forced to... :/

Re:Just one inconvenient graph... (5, Insightful)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138748)

All that graph means is that Cuba has a relatively low population given it's agricultural production.

If you were to include theoretically possible agricultural production, instead of actual, the US would be a lot better off than cuba :

wolframalpha to the rescue [wolframalpha.com]

In terms of sustainability, using the only metric that really matters (amount of sunlight over land per capita), the US is 3 times more sustainable than Cuba, which is about as sustainable as Europe (ie. Cuba and Europe need to kill at least half their population if they're to survive on their own, while the US could increase it's population by another 50% before problems start occuring).

The additional snag is that 2.1 hectares per person is only a viable number assuming industrial agriculture. Traditional agriculture, or "bio" products, or "sustainable farming" need between 10 times and 100 times that. Assuming 10 times, that means that Europe and Cuba need to kill (or starve) just slightly over 95% of their populations and the US would need to kill (or starve) a little under 85% of the US population.

So "sustainable agriculture" ? That ship has sailed, and is long gone over the horizon. I wonder how "greenies" think about this. Is it acceptable to kill 90% of all humans alive so that the remainder could be slightly healther (live 5 years longer) ? If one is to believe actions, clearly greenies believe this. Of course, in reality, I doubt they've even thought about it.

On the other hand, Japan has survived now for about 60 years with less than 0.1 ha/capita, and is now approaching 0.04 ha/capita. Whatever the catches in that, it's possible.

And there's always the technological option. The best plants are less than 2% efficient in collecting energy. Storing that energy is about 8% efficient (energy in ATP -> energy in starch). Eating those plants directly is less than 0.2% efficient. Eating plants gives human bodies about 2 millionth of the original solar power that went into producing what they ate. If we were to find a way to convert sunlight directly into sugar (or starch, or ... I'm in favor of starch, that would, after all, mean free beer) with an efficiency of 10%, 0.2 ha/capita should be easily attainable. If we can get 50% efficient at that, we could feed over 90000 trillion people.

In addition, a sunlight -> oil process would only need to be 0.0001% efficient to match current oil output. If you could make that 10%, we could send every human alive today to the moon on holiday for a weekend every month.

Re:Just one inconvenient graph... (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138890)

But "global hectares per person" isn't just about agriculture...

Virtually everything we make and consume uses some part of this most general "resource". And this measure includes also, say, oil - after all, it's essentially a way of using "global hectares" from the past! (whihc in itself isn't such terrible thing, but will become harder with time).

Yet you wanted to look only at the present land area, which gives US 3x higher result...so what, you consume so much that it's far from enough and you end up far from sustainable (almost at the least sustainable as a matter of fact). Besides, it wasn't really about Cuba, just about countries which end up sustainably...that Cuba manages to have high human development index at the same time is all the better.

Again, 2.1 hectares per person is the number Earth can bear long-term; that it requires industrial agriculture is simply a lie because industrial agricculture itself adds to that number (by taking from the past)

BTW, better not to rely on some hypothetical efficient future technology of converting our source of energy...

Cross breeding... (4, Interesting)

iago-vL (760581) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138424)

I'm sure it doesn't help that the plants that are resistant to roundup will cross-pollinate with the weeds that are supposed to be killed with roundup, thereby making everything resistant. I remember people saying a long time ago that this would happen, and here we are!

Roundup Ready soya patent about to run out (4, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138458)

Just as the patent on Roundup Ready soybeans [nytimes.com] is about to run out, the Roundup Ready weeds come out. Coincidence?

Re:Roundup Ready soya patent about to run out (1)

ProfMobius (1313701) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138540)

Yep, pure coincidence. It is called natural selection. What you are saying is like telling that superbugs appear in hospitals just before an antibiotic patent is about to run out...

Re:Roundup Ready soya patent about to run out (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139194)

No, it would make way more sense to release the GE superbugs when you control the patent on the only cure. This is more like releasing a superbug resistant to your antibiotic when the patent runs out, so you can patent the cure to the new bug.

Re:Roundup Ready soya patent about to run out (1)

mgbastard (612419) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139212)

That'd be a hell of a smoking gun... if introduction of a Roundup2/soybeanRR2 comes soon... But... Is it even illegal? I'm having trouble thinking of a civil tort that would apply. I'm about to old man it, but we are not advanced enough to be mass deploying genetically engineered foods, pesticides & weeds. We'll end up doing what the nukes never did, but slowly: Leaving the whole surface dust.

Re:Cross breeding... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138524)

I'm sure it doesn't help that the plants that are resistant to roundup will cross-pollinate with the weeds that are supposed to be killed with roundup,

The definition of species is the inability to reproduce outside a given genetic group. Corn doesn't reproduce with ragweed. Nice try though.

Re:Cross breeding... (5, Funny)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138572)

I'm sure it doesn't help that the plants that are resistant to roundup will cross-pollinate with the weeds that are supposed to be killed with roundup,

The definition of species is the inability to reproduce outside a given genetic group. Corn doesn't reproduce with ragweed. Nice try though.

Nonsense. Horse, meet donkey. Go, mule, go!

And a mule is sterile... (1)

crovira (10242) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138698)

I do wish you hadn't used the example where the end result is the "EOL" for breeding.

Pick the example of Transposons a.k.a. "jumping genes" instead.

Its closer to the actual mechanism anyway.

Re:Cross breeding... (1)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138610)

And that generally holds true. One thing I learned in biology (college) was that plants rarely pay attention to silly human rules. If they did, things such as grafted trees just wouldn't exist (the graft would die).

Re:Cross breeding... (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138672)

And that generally holds true. One thing I learned in biology (college) was that plants rarely pay attention to silly human rules. If they did, things such as grafted trees just wouldn't exist (the graft would die).

You know, trees clone themselves by dropping pointy branches in the mud, but I'm pretty damned sure they don't graft themselves. They have a hard time wrapping the tape. I suppose it's not impossible but I'd really have to see an example :)

Re:Cross breeding... (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138556)

There might be some cross pollination, but there isn't that much. There also might be some other gene transfer, but there isn't that much.

Mostly, this is the weeds evolving their own natural resistance.

Re:Cross breeding... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138868)

So in law the patent holders for gene sequences involved in cross polination now have ownership of the new hybrids, weeds and crops. But the genes of co-evolved weeds (those expressing resistance to roundup without involving patented gene sequences) are in the public domain.

Re:Cross breeding... (1)

sp3d2orbit (81173) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139206)

That's like saying a frog will eventually mate with a horse and create a breed of amphibious horses.

Bulk Herbicides: Now Unnecessary (5, Interesting)

jfjfjdk (1260722) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138448)

Computer vision is more than adequate to have robots roll around a field, identify weeds, and use either thermal disruption, plucking, or extremely localized weedkiller injection (mLs) right at the base of the weed. All of these approaches are working at the research scale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSxNBwegfo8 [youtube.com] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMF7EuCAVbI [youtube.com] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtgMNj6xCkk [youtube.com] and for harvesting: http://www.optoiq.com/index/display/article-display/303062/articles/vision-systems-design/volume-12/issue-8/features/profile-in-industry-solutions/vision-system-simplifies-robotic-fruit-picking.html [optoiq.com] but with below-minimum-wage foreign labor and generic Roundup too cheap to bother, it will take legislative action to make the switch. Write your congressman.

Re:Bulk Herbicides: Now Unnecessary (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138508)

and why exactly should cheaper methods be outlawed simply because you don't like them? Totally stupid, I guess you have zero experience in farming, yet another armchair expert.

Re:Bulk Herbicides: Now Unnecessary (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138594)

but with below-minimum-wage foreign labor and generic Roundup too cheap to bother,

and why exactly should cheaper methods be outlawed simply because you don't like them?

So you think that "below-minimum-wage" is okay? That we shouldn't have minimum-wage laws? Or that producing a monoculture that leaves an essential part of the the economy vulnerable to bubble-burst cycles is a "good thing?"

Drink some more kool-aid. You can have mine - I won't be needing it.

Re:Bulk Herbicides: Now Unnecessary (2, Interesting)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138742)

and why exactly should cheaper methods be outlawed simply because you don't like them?

Wow, master of the loaded question that contains its own answer, are we?

And while we're at it, why should we ban lead from paint? Or arsenic from drinking water? Lets just allow big companies to poison us all, then we can buy medicine from them to feel better later on, it'll be fine! The important thing is to maximize profits.

forget robots, when you have minimum wage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138824)

and there is no RISK of robot revolution

Obligatory quote... (0, Offtopic)

Muzungo (950356) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138454)

I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit... it's the only way to be sure

Hallelujah! (3, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138460)

They are spreading throughout North America, creating headaches for farmers and posing 'the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,' according to Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.

Hooray! This isn't really true, though. It's the single largest threat to so-called "green revolution" production agriculture that we have ever seen — and good riddance. Production agriculture simply means the production of food (including animal products) for sale, and hopefully, profit. The only type of agriculture threatened by pesticide-resistant weeds is that which is dependent on pesticides. This development will not affect permaculture and organic farmers, the former of which can produce more food per acre than factory farming. It requires substantially more manpower to grow crops in guilds, which essentially eliminates the opportunity for mechanical cultivation, but at a time when unemployment is at an all-time high, it seems reasonable to use manpower to solve problems. Meanwhile, the contradictorily named "green revolution" methods of using machines and chemicals to grow plants is harmful to soil, and leads to less-nutritious food overall.

Re:Hallelujah! (3, Insightful)

jimicus (737525) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138528)

There is, of course, the bijou issue-ette that organic farming produces substantially less product per acre, meaning you need a hell of a lot more space to grow the same amount of food. Meanwhile, population (and hence demand for food) is growing.

Re:Hallelujah! (1)

Chonnawonga (1025364) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138580)

That's only true for monoculture fed by petroleum-based fertilizers. As soon as you talk in terms of sustainable farming, with crop rotations and even mixed fields, traditional farming has productivity levels that monoculture can't touch.

It's a moot point, though. Petroleum-based monoculture cannot be sustained indefinitely. Traditional agriculture has been and--unless we continue to destroy our soils--will be.

Re:Hallelujah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138838)

"I read somewhere", so take it with a grain of salt, that the average fertility of an acre of land today (in the US) is only half of what it was in the 1940s. Any increases in production are due almost entirely to increases in acreage planted. Sort of like the East Coast fishermen fishing themselves out of a livelihood, in spite of one female cod producing 50,000,000 eggs.

Re:Hallelujah! (5, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138632)

There is, of course, the bijou issue-ette that organic farming produces substantially less product per acre, meaning you need a hell of a lot more space to grow the same amount of food. Meanwhile, population (and hence demand for food) is growing.

Permaculture, a type of organic farming, can produce more food per acre than factory farming. Further, a great deal of food goes to waste today. What we really need to improve the quality of food and the efficiency of food production is more point-of-use production of food, so that it doesn't have to travel so far. Up to 50% of a typical produce shipment across the country will end up as waste due to spoilage in transit alone. You need either more space or more workers, but we do have more workers. Unemployment is off the hook.

Even if you did need more space, it would still be true that factory farming is unsustainable. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that fertilizing crops with petroleum has serious negative repercussions. It does take someone who knows something about farming to understand the full negative impact of factory farming, however. When you run machines over soil you create hardpan which causes problems with soil drainage, leading to anaerobic conditions which breed harmful bacteria, also killing off beneficials. When you spray artificial fertilizers and pesticides on it, you kill biological components of the soils including fungal mycelium, beneficial bacteria, and nematodes. Healthy topsoil is over 60% organic matter, and as much as 40% of living soil may be made up of living components. "Green revolution" farming destroys healthy soil, and turns it into a sterile hydroponic growth medium which literally cannot be used to produce food without providing all of the food that the plant needs. Organic foods have also been shown to have higher nutrient content than processed foods; it is believed that this is in part due to the ability of healthy soil to provide nutrients needed by plants. In organic gardening, you feed the soil, not the plant. Of course, another part is that organic gardeners are harvesting by hand and typically delivering product closer to home, and thus they are free to grow varieties other than those which may be easily handled by machine and shipped long distances.

Nature never grows plants in monocultures like this. Even a redwood forest (redwoods are very good at suppressing competing plants) has an understory. In nature, plants tend to grow in groups of the same or similar plants, each plant providing something that its neighbors need. This arrangement is known as a guild in permaculture, and it is indeed one of the primary bases of the concept. The classic example is the "three sisters [wikipedia.org] " of corn, beans, and squash; the corn provides a trellis for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen for the corn and the squash, and the squash provides shade which reduces water loss and suppresses competitors — i.e. weeds. In such an arrangement, yields are increased as compared to growing monocultural rows which invite mass invasions of pests and which require liberal applications of chemicals to operate. However, such plantings cannot be harvested mechanically with the means currently at our disposal, robotics being perhaps on the cusp of being able to do this economically, but not quite actually being there. Or in short, everything is inferior about "green revolution" farming save for profit.

Re:Hallelujah! (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138844)

Or in short, everything is inferior about "green revolution" farming save for profit.

Profit drives everything. You may not like it, but that's the world that you live in.

If you realistically want change, you'll either need to start convincing people that they're harming their long term profitability for short term gain (which won't matter to those who intend to leave after the short term peak blows over), or make permaculture more profitable than factory farming in the short term.

Although I don't know about farming specifically, I'd suggest that the latter option is more plausible, based on what I've read in your post above. Either the cost of factory farming will rise due to legislation mandating that farmers pay to negate the damage they're doing to the land, technological advances will increase the profitability of permaculture farming, or the land damage caused by factory farming will cause yields (and therefore profits) to drop.

When the combination of those three factors makes permaculture the better business option I don't doubt that we'll see a boom in those farming methods. It sounds to me like that'll be a good thing for all of us.

What you can't expect, however, is for companies to act in a particular way simply because it's in the best interests of the population at large. If you're trying to bring about change by preaching the merits of your method you're unlikely to succeed, unless one of those merits happens to be increased profit (or perhaps decreased startup cost, allowing more competition). The way to effect real change is by using finance as the driving force.

Re:Hallelujah! (2, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138852)


Or in short, everything is inferior about "green revolution" farming save for profit.

How about price? When I've priced organic foods vs. non-organic foods, it's often times about twice the price. That may be all well and good for IT people who tend to make good wages, but for most people a 2 times jump in price isn't affordable.

Re:Hallelujah! (2, Insightful)

sp3d2orbit (81173) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139218)

If this were true then every farmer would be doing it. There is no economic incentive to use a less efficient method of farming out of spite for the environment.

Re:Hallelujah! (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139096)

There is, of course, the bijou issue-ette that organic farming produces substantially less product per acre, meaning you need a hell of a lot more space to grow the same amount of food. Meanwhile, population (and hence demand for food) is growing.

The problem with your statement is:
1. in order to prop up prices, the Government is/has been paying farmers not to plant crops.
2. organic farmers are growing vastly more, on less acreage, than their grandparents did.
3. even if organic farming produces "substantially less product per acre", it commands a premium that more than makes up for the extra work and lower yield

I just find it hard to match your statements with the facts on the ground.
I mean, come on! The Government is paying farmers not to plant.

Re:Hallelujah! (2, Interesting)

conureman (748753) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138538)

This is only a threat to the Agri-business monopolies. The price of production should go up a bit, and allow more small farmers to compete with less capital-intensive methods. In other words, it will level the playing field. Dear God, it sounds like we need to pass a stimulus bill. Isn't Monsanto too big to fail?

Re:Hallelujah! (4, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138560)

but at a time when unemployment is at an all-time high, it seems reasonable to use manpower to solve problems.

Why do you think that Americans want to go back to tilling the soil? We've left it to immigrants, who feel forced by poverty to fruit-pick and such, but even they don't wish such a fate for their children. Sorry, but backbreaking work in the fields is not seen as progress by any developing or developed country. If farming with modern techniques is an evil, it's still preferable to mankind having to do more work for less benefit. Much of my family right now is dealing with unemployment, but there are certain jobs they will not stoop to because it contradicts everything that was promised about life in today's high-tech world getting steadily more leisurely.

Meanwhile, the contradictorily named "green revolution" methods ... leads to less-nutritious food overall.

The scientific community overwhelmingly denies that your precious organic food is any more nutritious. But I'm sure people just looking at the plain-as-day lab results are all puppets of a shadowy corporate conspiracy, eh?

Re:Hallelujah! (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138746)

Why do you think that Americans want to go back to tilling the soil?

This is a red herring. The most intelligent way to farm is without tilling. You can use root/tuber crops, and cover crops with deep tap roots, to do all the tilling you need. We plant mustard in our garden every year to overwinter the beds.

We've left it to immigrants, who feel forced by poverty to fruit-pick and such, but even they don't wish such a fate for their children.

The reason citizens don't want to do those jobs is that they don't pay. They don't pay because big agribusiness has succeeded in getting immigration authorities to ignore their malfeasance; it is illegal to hire illegal aliens, but just try to get one of these big companies busted for it. On the contrary; it is common to have a percentage of your workers deported immediately before giving them their final check... or should I say, instead of giving them their final check. Indeed, the authorities are working with big agribusiness to take jobs away from citizens and give them to illegal immigrants so that said agribusiness can make a larger profit. And since salaries are a small portion of the total money spent in any case, even doubling wages would have a relatively small impact on the price of food. They might, however, have a large impact on the luxury yacht building business.

The scientific community overwhelmingly denies that your precious organic food is any more nutritious

No, it doesn't. At best, the results are still out. No conclusive studies have really been performed. Every "clinical" study has ignored reality: you must compare the average unit of organic produce to the average unit of non-organic produce, which is to say, you must go and pick them up off of store shelves and perform the comparison. To date, studies have focused on the non-uniformity of organic food production methods to discredit the superiority of organic produce, which is closely akin to saying that it's difficult to perform a good study if you do it badly.

Re:Hallelujah! (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139018)

The reason citizens don't want to do those jobs is that they don't pay. They don't pay because big agribusiness has succeeded in getting immigration authorities to ignore their malfeasance

People were leaving in droves from American agriculture well before illegal immigration reached major levels. Again, agriculture is simply not work that people want to do. Even if you pay high salaries, the effort required is seen as too great compared to working in, say, the service industry.

Re:Hallelujah! (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138792)

Why do you think that Americans want to go back to tilling the soil? We've left it to immigrants, who feel forced by poverty to fruit-pick and such

You answered your own question with the same logic he used in the first place: Forced by poverty.

*ding* Fries are done!

Not all jobs are awesome, but everyone needs one.

Re:Hallelujah! (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139036)

Not all jobs are awesome, but everyone needs one.

People need a job that makes them happy. Better to have people receiving public assistance while they wait for a job that meets their interests and qualifications than force people to take anything they can get. Yes, your taxes are a couple of percentage points higher if you're working, but quality of life in your country goes through the roof.

Bad for Monsanto good for us... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138462)

"However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds."

Am I the only one that read this as a good thing? Prior to Roundup farmers cross pollinated more resistant plants in order to improve them, this slow and gradual process never generated insane weeds. Monsanto has been known for a lot of shady practices anyway. Anything to discourage farmers from using their products is great.

These wre Intelligently Designed weed ... (5, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138472)

... and we're the designers.

This was predictable for anyone who believes in evolution. We've known since the early '70s that bacteria can pass genes back and forth. We've known for a while that plants can pass genes on to animals (http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/05/02/2215251/Aphids-Color-Comes-From-a-Fungus-Gene?from=rss [slashdot.org] ). A combination of natural selection and gene transfer makes this not only expected, but inevitable.

Franken-weeds.

Re:These wre Intelligently Designed weed ... (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138814)

This was predictable for anyone who believes in evolution.

Maybe if people were less concerned with getting people to believe and more with getting people to understand...

Re:These wre Intelligently Designed weed ... (1)

Jer (18391) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138850)

Of course it's predictable. And Monsanto either got lucky or figured out the probabilities before hand given that their "Round-up ready" crops are getting ready to fall out of patent protection sometime in the next few years. Just as they're ready to lose their monopoly, their crop becomes useless.

If it wasn't luck that's "planned obsolescence" at its finest. I actually will not be surprised if Monsanto has a new crop that is immune to a new herbicide ready to go sometime shortly after their patent expires - maybe just before it expires. And all this research about how weeds are now "round-up ready" will be used as marketing material by Monsanto to push their new crop and the new herbicide when the time comes. Monsanto may be fairly high up on the Evil rating as far as corporations go, but Evil doesn't mean Stupid.

Re:These wre Intelligently Designed weed ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138912)

As far as I'm aware horizontal gene transfer is not exactly common except in bacteria. The spread of those genes may have been inevitable, but there was no way to predict if it would take 5 years or 5 million years.

Evolution? How about natural selection? (1)

shovas (1605685) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139154)

I don't believe in evolution but natural selection absolutely.

Every single case where evolution is cited ends up being natural selection. This is an important difference. Natural selection is simply allowing those best fit to survive.

Evolution is too broad a term to apply to what's happening here. Most, having been taught evolution, will think there is some progressive genetic changes going on here enabling a survival trait that did not previously exist. That is never the case. This is a case of the common weed being killed out and the only one left being the one that could survive all along and, having no competition, it can thrive.

And, really, natural selection is inspired. It seems elegant at its scale and therefore brilliant.

old ways (3, Interesting)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138482)

I guess we'll have to stop managing by chemistry alone and use some of the old methods again. Renaissance time for small farmers?

Monsanto vs Mother nature (5, Insightful)

Beretta Vexe (535187) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138484)

Can they sue mother nature, she obliviously infringes some Monsanto patents with her round up ready weed?

Blow to 'creation science' (5, Insightful)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138488)

Examples like this show natural selection in practice. You don't have to wait thousands of years to see Evolution. It is happening all around you everyday. Superweeds are a predictable outcome of pesticide usage.

Re:Blow to 'creation science' (1)

chudnall (514856) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138608)

Not really a blow to creation science. Don't get me wrong - I think evolution has more than enough science behind it to accept it as fact. But I also think it's good to try to really understand all sides of an argument. Just casually flipping through a creationism book will show that creationists don't have any problems with natural selection - which is what this is. It's the idea of evolution - one species turning into an entirely different species - that gets their panties in a bunch. Just using natural selection to make herbicide-resistant weeds isn't really any different than selecting certain traits to create new dog breeds. But that isn't evolution either.

Re:Blow to 'creation science' (1)

shovas (1605685) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139202)

It's the idea of evolution - one species turning into an entirely different species - that gets their panties in a bunch.

That's not true. Creationists are fine with natural selection (I think it's an inspired, elegant and brilliant method at its scale). But the common idea of evolution, when used in contexts like this, is that progressive genetic changes are occurring causing a gain of a trait that did not previously exist in the genetic code. This is never the case.

Instead, what always turns out to be the case is that a minority of a population has a trait that better enables them to survive whatever pressure is being exerted on them. The majority population diminishes and the minority flourishes.

Just using natural selection to make herbicide-resistant weeds isn't really any different than selecting certain traits to create new dog breeds.

Bingo.

Re:Blow to 'creation science' (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138860)

Examples like this show natural selection in practice.

They simply moved the goal post: So you have overwhelming evidence of evolution at the molecular level, they're forced to admit that it's happening, reluctantly, but their new goal is that they want overwhelming evidence of new organs. Prove THAT, Johnny Science!

No big surprises here if you care to think ahead (4, Insightful)

inflex (123318) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138530)

We're seeing the same thing starting around here in subtle ways. Our neighbour uses various things to cull the 'weeds' (grass damnit!) on his farm plot, however every season the tough stuff comes back faster (thorns, prickles, even Parthenium now is coming back) and he's spraying more frequently to try compensate. What's more annoying is that we're trying to run an organic system here and his washoff and overspray tends to drift into our property, causing our natural grasses to die back a fair distance into our property as well as tainting the orchard crop closest to the boundary.

All that's happened with agriculture is that we've traded the future for short term gains. Time to put away the toxic stuff and start living with less than perfect harvests, at least it's better than -no- harvest (also, stop trying to grow stuff where it really doesn't belong damnit!)

Re:No big surprises here if you care to think ahea (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138750)

traded the future for short term gains.

Isn't that the way that most publicly traded companies are run these days as well?

Re:No big surprises here if you care to think ahea (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139180)

That's the way our (the US's) entire society is being run. Give tax cuts so people can buy yet another HDTV, and meanwhile sit around watching our infrastructure crumble. Spend $10 on a blender that will break in a year rather than spending $30 on a blender that will last 10 years. Reward CEOs who can get big returns for next quarter, even if it means sacrificing the long-term viability of the company.

It's a know phenomenon... (3, Informative)

holiggan (522846) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138532)

...it's called "evolution".

It's only natural that the weeds that have been surviving all the herbicide just come up stronger and stronger after each generation, to the point were the herbicide doesn't kill them anymore.

It's the way that living things behave: the stronger (or better adapted) survive, and the obstacles are slowly but steadily surpassed.

This is specially noticeable on living beings with a very low generation time (like bugs, plants, some small animals, etc), as the adaptations and mutations crop up relatively fast.

It's the way biology works, although some people like to have a "meddling god" to explain this all...

If they're going to be called... (1)

taoye (1456551) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138570)

If they're going to be called super bugs and super weeds, then we should be called super mammals! I hate this idea they have that the entire world around us should remain static, and this utter surprise whenever our actions have some kind of effect on that world. Holy shit! Stuff evolves and adapts? What!? Nobody told me that weeds and bugs would be adapting! I'm suing!

Re:If they're going to be called... (1)

Whomp-Ass (135351) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139166)

We are. We are called "Apex-SuperPredators" [wikipedia.org] , or Super-SuperPredators.

Monsanto following in the footsteps of Microsoft? (1)

nysus (162232) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138590)

First, release a product, intended for wide or universal application, with little or no thought to how the larger ecosystem will subvert it. Next, release an infinite number of patches, fixes, and new products to try to put the genie back in the bottle while millions of users continue to shell out money to you and curse your very existence on the planet.

I asked about this (1)

Leebert (1694) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138596)

I know a guy who works for an agribusiness. I asked him about this last summer. He shrugged and said that for every Roundup product out there, there was another waiting for the first to become ineffective. In fact, it almost makes business sense, that once the patents start expiring, the weeds become resistant and it doesn't matter anymore anyway. Cue the next product in the queue of products, Profit!

Spoke with a farmer last year about this... (1)

bigattichouse (527527) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138616)

He mentioned that certain common weeds would "die-back" to the ground - so they looked dead, but they would spring up later with several stalks, much thicker in the base each time. He and several others would then go back to monsanto, who said it was impossible - until shown the weeds. Monstanto would pay to spray again, and then brought out again to redo the spraying. Roundup, hopefully, will become a

The funny thing is that a local guy I know has an organic farm, with very few problems due to his use of teenagers working in the fields - once taught to recognize the plants from the weeds, they do a great job.

Not a problem. (2, Funny)

JeanBaptiste (537955) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138640)

We'll just send in Chinese Needle Snakes which will exterminate the weeds.

It's had a good run (1)

sirgoran (221190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138650)

Roundup has been in use for as long as I can remember, 40+ years. It's great due to it's ability to kill a plant completely and then breakdown in the soil to inert ingredients. But I have to wonder if part of the problem with the weeds becoming resistant is due to the bacteria used to make the roundup ready crops. Seems that it's more possible for a bacteria to be passed from one plant to another, and since the first resistant strain was found in 2000, there has been ten years for the bacteria to spread to other weeds.

Perhaps it's time to not create crops that are safe to spray with herbicides and just find a better way to weed the farm by machine. Perhaps after harvest and just before planting a farmer could spray the fields with roundup and kill any weeds. Then after a couple of weeks, plant the seed and while waiting for the crops to grow, a new line of machine could be built that would make it possible to weed out any non-crop plants. In the long run it would be cheaper for the farmer since a machine would be cheaper to reuse than the high cost of roundup ready seeds, and the cost of spraying once the crop is growing.

It's a great product and I've used it myself for home use for over 35 years.

Just wish I could get my wife on board with its use. She feels I have a heavy hand with it.

-Goran

Cotton: The New Frankenstein (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32138706)

If there's a more heavily, multi-chemical-sprayed crop than cotton I don't know what it is.

I think there's a growing issue with red rice (a weed) that is "solved" by the use of a specific rice variety that is resistant to the herbicide used to kill the red rice. The two rices are close enough genetically that what kills the red rice also kills the crop rice. Unless you buy the specific (perhaps naturally) modified crop rice. Yee Haw! Create the problem and then sell the solution. Better living through "Big Farma" capitalism!

That's why I stick with land race chiles.

Schadenfreudelicious! (1)

benjfowler (239527) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138740)

Karma's a bitch, hey Monsanto?

The answer? (1)

kikito (971480) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138752)

Use a gun.

If that doesn't work,

use more guns.

South America (1)

Herkum01 (592704) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138858)

When I was in Business School, about 5 years ago, I wrote about South America and its addiction to Round-Up Ready crops. Monsanto was trying to get money out of them because they refused to pay for the seeds. Instead the farmers were keeping seeds from year to year. Eventually, Monsanto came to an agreement with the governments to collect licensing fees for their seeds.

Since Round-Up was working so well and they were keeping the seeds around from year to year and sharing with their neighbors. At the time, certain crops in Brazil and Argentina were 90% Round-Up Ready. It would not surprise me if that were true for the rest of South America.

I think that this is a good thing. A lack of diversity in plant life is going to harmful at some point. Hell, look at your supermarket. You have plants in the store that look great, and taste like nothing(strawberries are great example).

Monsanto says it's all right (1)

klapaucjusz (1167407) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138946)

From the article:

Monsanto, which once argued that resistance would not become a major problem, now cautions against exaggerating its impact. “It’s a serious issue, but it’s manageable,”

alternative to sprays (1)

zogger (617870) | more than 4 years ago | (#32138960)

Doesn't work in all situations, but green manure cover crops, then using a mechanical "knife roller" (just google that) before planting your real crop, (that device squishes and kills the cover crop, it turns it into a green surface mulch and eventually naturally rots to fertilizer, lather, rinse, repeat every season) appears to be a completely viable method for tons of farming purposes that can help eliminate herbicide use. From what I have read it is in semi widespread use in Brazil so far, and a lot of independents and ag colleges in the states here are working on different designs of them.

Complete misunderstanding in article and posts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32139038)

* Monsanto produced Roundup (a herbicide) and crops resistant to Roundup. Farmers would spray Roundup everywhere and kill everything but the crops.
* Weeds are now becoming resistant to Roundup. Roundup may therefore stop being effective in controlling weeds. So far, 10 out of 170m acres are affected.
* Weeds becoming resistant to Roundup does not make them resistant to other herbicides. Resistance is narrow. They do not evolve into "supermutant" weeds that grow at 3x the rate to 2x the size and cannot be killed by any herbicide.
* Roundup, if its resistance spreads to the other 90% of land, has therefore not "caused" anything more than a return to a pre-Roundup state.
* Farmers are upset about this because Roundup helped them produce massive amounts of food.
* It is extremely ironic to speak first about how callous, greedy and money-obsessed capitalist factory farmers are, and then say that an alternative system of principles could produce enormously much greater food yields than the strongest pesticide. If farmers are so greedy that means they adopt the system that produces the most yield. You are contradicting yourself.

Funny how the anti-GM crowd seems to distort facts and spread FUD as eagerly as what they accuse climate-skeptic crowd of doing.

Older solutions still work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32139090)

There were plenty of other herbicides that were used before roundup. When only roundup resistant weeds remain, it becomes economically feasible to switch back to these older more expensive herbicides.

Yes, some of the chemicals are nastier to handle, and some are more labor intensive to spray, but it is not the end of the world.

Monsanto is EVIL! (1)

sunyjim (977424) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139094)

My concern is, that even if they wanted to Monsanto has sued the seed cleaners, and public seed stores into the ground. Farmers used to plant hundreds of varieties of Corn and Soy and then keep and wash the seeds to plant them next year. But we are loosing the technology and the strains of plants to be able to do that. This could just be the beginning. Thank goodness it's only weeds that are resistant. Once it's a pest to the crop, which will come soon enough all the corn is vulnerable, all the Soy is vulnerable because they are all the same strain now across the whole country. What I have done, and what I encourage others to do. Boycott Monsanto, don't buy their roundup products. Buy Organic, you'd be amazed what your purchasing decisions tells the agribusiness. You CAN make them change. Great movie FOOD INC. just came out recently watch it and see where your food is coming from.

Evolution in a rapid lifecycle (1)

mgbastard (612419) | more than 4 years ago | (#32139150)

I'd like the evolution deniers to come explain this. Yes, it only takes two successive reproductions for the resistance mutation to be successful. And pretty soon it's spreading all over the land mass. Billions and billions of chances for the right mutation to have occurred since the resistant crops and Roundup spraying combination was introduced. Roundup takes care of all the competition in the gene pool pretty efficiently! I just pray that the evolution deniers that couldn't forsee this don't conclude that an engineered virus is the best way to dispatch weeds next. Yeah, those never evolve and cross-over to species. Say corn and wheat? Oh, they'll just "patch that" with new virus-resistant corn and wheat? Sure. Because corporate profits should surely trump biodiversity in crops. Perhaps a little legislation and regulation to make sure we don't make the planet die?
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