You’ll have noticed my fondness for science fiction-related metaphor. And, in the world of genetically modified crops, there’s a lot of science and fiction. The benefits of using genetically modified crops are, for instance, largely fictional. But here’s an example of what happens when the science behind genetically modified crops hits the real world: unkillable plants that destroy machines.
Alright, it’s not quite the Day of the Triffids. But it’s worryingly close. The rise of these superweeds is a consequence of the planting of herbicide tolerant crops – a ‘spray and forget’ agricultural model developed by Monsanto in which plants are genetically engineered by Monsanto to resist a herbicide devised and sold by Monsanto. So what went wrong? The plants that were meant to be killed by the herbicide became resistant to it. The only way to get rid of it is by pulling it up, involving a lot more labour than might have been required through more agroecological and less-Monsanto-driven approaches to farming. And, as Mae-Wan Ho notes in a recent piece, this is one of many serious technological failures in US agriculture that have, because of the power of US agricultural corporations, been exported to developing countries too.