'Superweeds' signal setback for GM crops

A A A
The dispute over genetically modified crops will intensify today with news of the evolution of "superweeds", which are resistant to the powerful weedkillers that GM crops were engineered to tolerate.</p>The development, which comes as the sacked former environment minister Michael Meacher puts himself at the head of the anti-GM campaign, will be seized on by opponents of the technology as undermining its rationale.</p>It means that bigger quantities of weedkillers - not less, as the biotechnology companies have claimed - will be needed in GM-crop fields, adding to the already intensive agriculture that has wiped out much of Britain's farmland wildlife in the past four decades. Monsanto, the GM market leader, confirmed to The Independent</i> at the weekend that its solution for dealing with resistant weeds was to apply different weedkillers in new ways.</p>In yesterday's Independent on Sunday</i>, Mr Meacher accused Tony Blair, a GM supporter, of seeking to bury health warnings about GM produce by "rushing to desired conclusions which cannot be scientifically supported".</p>The revelations about superweeds have been communicated to the Government by an American academic specialising in weed control, who has posted a paper on the website of the official GM science review, led by Professor David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser. This will report soon in advance of a long-delayed decision, due this autumn, on whether GM crops should be commercialised in Britain.</p>The paper, by Professor Bob Hartzler of the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University, reveals that in the past seven years, up to five weed species have been found with resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, best known by the Monsanto trade name Roundup. The resistance has come about not through gene transfer from GM herbicide-tolerant crops, as some have feared, but through natural evolution.</p>Glyphosate is a "broad spectrum" herbicide, meaning that, originally, it killed everything, including crops. GM crops were developed to be tolerant of the herbicide, so it could be applied throughout the growing season.</p>Two GM crops proposed for commercial growth in Britain, fodder beet and sugar beet, are glyphosate-tolerant. But weeds have been found in Australia, Chile, Malaysia and California and other areas of the US, that glyphosate cannot kill.</p>Greg Elmore, Monsanto's US technical manager for soybeans, said Monsanto was taking seriously the question of glyphosate resistance, tackling it with "weed control management practices".</p>With soybeans, he said, resistant weeds were controlled with a pre-planting "burn-down" (which kills everything), using 2,4-D, another weedkiller.</p>At least three of the resistant weeds had evolved where glyphosate was being used with non-GM crops, he said, adding that it was far from the only weedkiller for which weeds had evolved resistance - as many as 70 weeds were resistant to some weedkillers.</p>Pete Riley, Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner, said: "Companies like Monsanto have spun GM crops and their weedkillers as having less impact on the environment, but the fact of resistant weeds undoubtedly means more weedkillers, and means the impact on the environment will be greater.</p>"These discoveries remove a central plank from the whole argument for GM crops."</p>Yesterday, Mr Meacher listed a series of reports and findings suggesting that the full impact of GM technology was still dangerously unpredictable. Many of the health tests carried out were "scientifically vacuous", he said. </p>
Suggested Topics
Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Midsummer swimwear season is well and truly upon us – but diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice