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Q:
Lately I have read that many GMO crops are performing badly, that super weeds are taking over and requiring ever more of your pesticides than before. How can I mutate my own body in the same manner as those super weeds, in order to ensure my survival and that of my progeny? Is there a way tha I can actually metabolize pesticides for better health?
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A:Expert Answer

Thank you for your novel question. It raises multiple issues, which the following attempts to address:

 

  • How can I mutate my body in the same manner as these superweeds?
    Mutation is a naturally occurring process, and your body is probably already undergoing thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of mutations every day, all by itself, most of them harmless and resulting from normal metabolic processes. More to the point, though, what is more likely happening with your so-called “superweeds” is not so much mutation as it is a result of natural selection. That is, here and there, as a result of natural diversity, a few weedy individuals at some given location already have a higher resistance than their peers to whatever method of weed control is in use. If those weeds then survive treatment and proliferate—and if you keep using the same weed-control method over and over again—in time the only weeds left would be those that the method you’re using has difficulty managing. The way to break this cycle of natural-selection pressure is to use multiple methods of weed control, including cultivation methods, and multiple modes of herbicidal action, so that no one weed with resistance to a specific means of control is able to use its resistance to its advantage.
  • Is there a way that I can actually metabolize pesticides for better health?
    Your body is most likely already metabolizing trace amounts of pesticides every day (or excreting them unchanged in urine). EPA thoroughly evaluates the biological pathways of every pesticide product (including evaluating your body’s ability to metabolize the product in the event of exposure) before it ever considers authorizing its use.
  • Many GM crops are performing badly.
    GM crops have actually achieved remarkable farmer adoption in a relatively brief period of time (GMO as a percentage of total global plantings: soybeans: 81 percent; cotton: 81 percent; maize: 35 percent; canola: 30 percent — ISAAA, 2012, Infographic: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2012). Whatever performance issues you may have in mind, these farmers would obviously not continue to pay extra for GM seeds if they were not satisfied with the results they were getting. (Farmers who did do so would likely go broke—another form of natural selection.)
  • Superweeds are taking over.
    Weeds really aren’t all that “super.” What they are, are survivors. (After all, if they weren’t pretty good at adapting to our strategies to get rid of them, they wouldn’t still be here.) Any unvarying use of the same weed-control method (whether chemical, mechanical or GMO) is going to build natural-selection pressure, allowing weeds to adapt. And that’s what happened with glyphosate-tolerant crops. Growers used the same game plan again and again over a period of 15 years because they had no other weed-control option that they saw as offering them comparable value in terms of farm profitability and flexibility in operations. Today, there are many more high-value crop technologies nearing regulatory approval that will soon give growers more options for effective weed control than they’ve had in the entire history of agriculture. Glyphosate was an important lesson, but the technology needed for sustainable control of so-called glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” already exists, and it will likely find rapid adoption once it receives regulatory approvals and is commercialized.
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