New Soybean Breed Calls for Questionable Pesticide

One of the most important reasons to eat organic is to avoid exposure to many pesticides that are unfortunately endemic to conventional farming. As frightening as these chemicals may seem, however, farmers often use them to protect crops against the double scourges of insects and weeds. In the battle against the latter, seed giant Monsanto has begun to encourage their farmers in Missouri and Tennessee to use a currently-illegal pesticide on a new breed of soybeans.

Just as bacteria periodically develop antibiotic resistance, requiring doctors to develop new drugs to combat the stronger “superbugs,” chemical pesticides encourage weeds to mutate into “superweeds,” new breeds that simply don’t respond to older methods of weed control.

Farmers initially dealt with the resistant weeds by using crops immune to popular weedkiller Roundup. Several generations later, the early weeds developed resistance to Roundup, and farmers sought new ways of fighting weeds — and crops resistant to these new pesticides.

Monsanto has responded with a breed of soybeans that are resistant to a stronger pesticide called dicamba, which works on a few generations of pigweed before the most resistant weed develops immunity. Unfortunately, dicamba also drifts easily onto other farms, which may have planted other types of soybeans, and kills the soybeans without resistance.

This has caused conflicts among neighboring farmers and raised questions over the safety of dicamba as a pesticide, which has been in some use in the U.S. since 1967. It also begs the question: has Monsanto finally become too reckless?