notjustnews's picture
How is Monsanto a "sustainable agriculture" company, when in fact GMOs and the heavy use of Round-Up encourages Super Weeds, and as a result, the use of more and new herbicides?

A:Expert Answer

To address this issue, one must first look at the current state of herbicide resistance and then examine the definitions of "sustainable agriculture" and the recommendations of public and private weed scientists to best manage resistance.


Resistance is not new, nor is it isolated to glyphosate. The first case of resistance to an herbicide was recorded in 1957, and since this time resistance has been recorded for just about every herbicide being used today.  Relative to most of the other herbicide classes, there is less resistance to glyphosate―even though no herbicide has been used more than glyphosate.  While some have branded the weeds resistant to glyphosate as "superweeds," weed scientists would explain that these same species have populations that are resistant to many other herbicides, and therefore that highlighting the issue relative to only glyphosate is a misrepresentation of the facts.  In short, public and private weed scientists work to reduce the risk and impact of resistance to all our herbicide resources.


As defined by USDA, there are three goals of sustainable agriculture:


(1)    Improve farmers' short-term and long-term profitability

(2)    Steward the nation’s land, air and water resources

(3)    Improve farmers' quality of life (


Weeds are one of the most economically important pests that famers have to manage to ensure long-term profitability.  The Weed Science Society of America has published a set of best management practices at, which specifies that the best way to proactively prevent or delay herbicide resistance is to employ a diversified weed-management program that includes the use of multiple herbicides with overlapping activity and/or use of herbicides in combination with mechanical and/or cultural practices.  The implementation of diversified programs is applicable and recommended for use before resistance is present in a field, as well as after resistant biotypes have become established in a field.  In short, multiple weed-control practices in the form of multiple herbicides and/or use of herbicides in combination with non-chemical practices are base recommendations of academics, government and extension weed scientists throughout the United States. 


The question becomes: How does the implementation of diversified weed-management programs fit with the goals of sustainable agriculture?  Using the three goals listed above, the answer is as follows: 


(1)    Diversified weed-management programs (i.e., use of multiple herbicides) improves short- and long-term profitability of farmers by increasing the yield potential of their crops.  Weeds are a threat to yields and, if not effectively controlled, cause the greatest reduction in yields, compared with losses due to insects and diseases.  Using multiple herbicides, in mixtures or sequences, reduces the likelihood that weeds will reduce yields.


(2)    Herbicides combined with diversified herbicide weed-management programs is one of two main technologies that have allowed farmers to adopt conservation tillage practices. The other key technology has been in advances in planters that that can be used in heavy plant residue situations.  Without herbicides, farmers would have to rely on mechanical tillage of the soil to control weeds.  USDA and university researchers throughout the United States have documented the environmental advantages of conservation tillage, which includes reduced soil and nutrient erosion into our streams, rivers and lakes.  This practice has also addressed the significant erosion of soil by wind that occurred during the "dust bowl" years in the 1930s and 1940s, when mechanical tillage was the primary method of weed control.


(3)    Diversified weed management programs, in general and specifically those including glyphosate or other broad-spectrum herbicides, provide greater flexibility and assurance to farmers in their ability to effectively control weeds and thus positively affect farmers’ lives. 


Another environmental advantage of herbicides and diversified weed-management practices is improved yield.  The more yield produced per acre of farmland, the less land needed to feed a growing population.  This reduces land converted from native vegetation to farm production and allows more land for wildlife and increased plant diversity.


In summary, I hope you can see that there is another, important side of the story relative to the value and use of herbicides and use of diversified-weed management programs and the connection with sustainable agriculture.  Monsanto’s role of providing new weed-control options, as it facilitates use of diversified weed-management programs and subsequently reduces the risk of resistance, is in fact very consistent with the basic goals of sustainable agriculture. 

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notjustnews's picture

Essentially, you have agreed with my general understanding of the problem.

GMOs enable greater scale mono-culture, and exacerbate the problem of herbicides. While I very much appreciate your scholarly tone, you've reiterated what I call problem as a 'policy.'

Yes, herbicides increase productivity. But as we grow one very specific strain of genetically patented crop, pests will adapt while the crop (and the trademarks associated with it) stay the same.

We cannot keep using more and more herbicide with fewer and less genetically diverse crops. Herbicides such as atrazine, deemed more dangerous even by the EPA, ( should be used in conjunction with more and more herbicides.

Herbicide cocktails are not a recipe for productivity or sustainability.

They are a recipe for eventual disaster.

I see that your research societies also focus on non-chemical weed control. May I suggest that highly-patent protected low-diversity crops are the cause of resistance and perhaps more money should be invested in other methods of control.

I know your employers will not like that idea. They've already invested a lot of money in protecting their patents.

And I'm all for farmers making money (something Monsanto is very much against)...but not at the expense of diversity and the cost (errm profit for Monsanto) of using massive amounts of herbicide.

Also, not everyone agrees that GMOs need less herbcide, especially when these crops are designed to withstand higher and higher doses of Round-Up. In fact, GMOs may even increase pesticide use as well.

Steven Smith's picture

So we are getting sick for the convenience of farmers? Weeds don't kill anything, herbicides and pesticides are killing our delicate gut bacteria. Leaving us prone to very bad health outcomes. These clips explain the science better than I could. and and

NeedsTheTruth's picture

you should ask the farmers if their quality of life has improved. i dont think you get to decide.

Jodi Venema's picture

Neither do you. Most farmers I know are elated that they don't have to spray nearly as much or spray more toxic substances that require a lot more time and prep. The RR corn and soybeans have HELPED the quality of life of most farmers. They actually get spend more time with their family.

Awakeaboutgmo's picture

Show us the proof of your claims Jodi, I am most intrigued.

zitiboat's picture

You have only managed to spotlight the massive problem of allowing a federal regulatory agency to change the definition of words to fit their agenda. Sustainable agriculture used to mean we could continue to grow crops, but now according to the USDA it means
"farmers" (and I use that to mean corporate monoculture expansionists) can increase profits year after year regardless of any healthy food produced. Take another good read of the definition provided by USDA. It lists 3 goals to make money NOT food! "As defined by USDA, there are three goals to Sustainable Agriculture:

(1) Improve farmer short-term and long-term profitability,

(2) Steward the nation’s land, air and water resources, and

(3) Improve farmers quality of life ( "
We have witnessed the stewardship of resources before in the form of the Dust Bowl desertifying the plains in a scramble to exploit more profits from the land by extracting without replacing nutrients. Destruction of the soil so that it requires adding artificial fertilizers in order to grow any crops at all instead of rotational farming and polycultures can only be sustained as long as there is a supply of phosphorus to be extracted from dwindling resources around the globe. Or did you not know we were aware of a looming shortage?

Transparency's picture

Mr. Soteres, I think your answer is very well written. With all due respect, I disagree that Monsanto is a "steward to the nation’s land, air and water resources."

This is why: new groundbreaking studies are revealing glyphosate’s toxicity to cell lines, aquatic life, livestock, and humans.

From (

1) One such study, published in the journal Ecotoxicology, found that glyphosate is toxic to water fleas (Daphnia magna) at minuscule levels that are well within the levels expected to be found in the environment.

According to regulators, glyphosate is thought to be practically nontoxic to aquatic invertebrates. The water flea is a widely accepted model for environmental toxicity, so this study throws serious doubt on glyphosate’s classification as environmentally safe.

2) An article published on last year reviewed several interesting studies relating to the profound toxicity of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup:

“Back in Feb. of 2012, the journal Archives of Toxicology published a shocking study showing that Roundup is toxic to human DNA even when diluted to concentrations 450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications.

This effect could not have been anticipated from the known toxicological effects of glyphosate alone. The likely explanation is that the surfactant polyoxyethyleneamine within Roundup dramatically enhances the absorption of glyphosate into exposed human cells and tissue,” Sayer Ji writes.

“If this is true, it speaks to a fundamental problem associated with toxicological risk assessments of agrichemicals (and novel manmade chemicals in general), namely, these assessments do not take into account the reality of synergistic toxicologies, i.e. the amplification of harm associated with multiple chemical exposures occurring simultaneously.”

3) Similarly, another study published that year in the journal Toxicology revealed that inert ingredients such as solvents, preservatives, surfactants and other added substances are anything but “inactive.” They in fact contribute to toxicity in a synergistic manner, and ethoxylated adjuvants in glyphosate-based herbicides were found to be "active principles of human cell toxicity."

(On a side note, an “ethoxylated” compound is a chemical that has been produced using the carcinogen ethylene oxide.8 The ethoxylation process also produces the carcinogenic byproduct 1,4-dioxane. It’s also worth noting here that the term “inert ingredient” does NOT actually mean that it is biologically or toxicologically harmless! When you see “inert” or “inactive ingredients” listed on the label of a pesticide or herbicide, it only means that those ingredients will not harm pests or weeds. This is how federal law classifies “inert” pesticide ingredients.)

The study found that liver, embryonic and placental cell lines exposed to various herbicide formulations for 24 hours at doses as low as 1 part per million (ppm), had adverse effects.10 According to the authors:

“Here we demonstrate that all formulations are more toxic than glyphosate, and we separated experimentally three groups of formulations differentially toxic according to their concentrations in ethoxylated adjuvants. Among them, POE-15 clearly appears to be the most toxic principle against human cells, even if others are not excluded. It begins to be active with negative dose-dependent effects on cellular respiration and membrane integrity between 1 and 3ppm, at environmental/occupational doses. We demonstrate in addition that POE-15 induces necrosis when its first micellization process occurs, by contrast to glyphosate which is known to promote endocrine disrupting effects after entering cells.

Altogether, these results challenge the establishment of guidance values such as the acceptable daily intake of glyphosate, when these are mostly based on a long term in vivo test of glyphosate alone. Since pesticides are always used with adjuvants that could change their toxicity, the necessity to assess their whole formulations as mixtures becomes obvious. This challenges the concept of active principle of pesticides for non-target species.”

Perhaps most disturbing of all, the researchers claim that cell damage and even cell death can occur at the residual levels found on Roundup-treated crops, as well as lawns and gardens where Roundup is applied for weed control.

Rex Peterson's picture

Awake about GMO
Do you recognize the importance of cover crops and avoiding tillage to improve soil health?
If you do, I will respond with how glyphosate fits in utilizing these technologies.

Ben Schaefer's picture

It is true that there is more RoundUp in use, but there are also much more acres of RR crops. If you look at yearly numbers, while RoundUp use is up, overall total numbers are down. Atrazine and organophosphates that are much worse that RoundUp are also down. We may never get to a situation in which absolutly no pesticides are used, but I think it is wonderful that we are able to replace older harsher ones for RoundUp now!

Brandon Hunnicutt's picture

From the farmer standpoint we are definitely more "sustainable" now than we were 20 years ago. With the ability to use GMO crops, we have reduced our number of trips over the field with our equipment and at the same time been able to leave more and more residue on the soil to help retain water and reduce weed pressure. We have been able to use less, and not as dangerous, pesticides because of the GMO crops. We also are using multiple modes of action when we are spraying to make sure we aren't causing resistance. Our Glyphosate applications are specific and only as needed. We use herbicides at planting that are not Glyphosate so we can come back 4-6 weeks later and use Glyphosate at a minimum rate to kill the small weeds coming up. This is true in both corn and soybeans. We also raise popcorn which contain no GMOs/Roundup/LIberty etc. It has to be treated different and allows us to mix up our herbicide package even more to minimize the chance of resistance. At the same time we are using modified no-till (strip tillage) to disturb as little soil as possible, leave as much residue on the ground as possible, and minimize the amount of weeds that can grow.

So companies like Monsanto have allowed many farmers to become more sustainable in ways that would not have been able to in the past.

AgrSci1's picture

Responding to "Transparency's" unscientific rant about glyphosate:
It is frightening how dangerous information can be in the hands of someone who is ignorant of science and research methods.

Your need to look at the methodology used in the glyphosate toxicity studies you site, as well as the headlines. Isolated human cells were exposed to huge doses of glyphosate in petri dishes. In the real world, after application, glyphosate is subject to many microbial and chemical degradation processes which break it down. The glyphosate would be subject to these processes for months prior to harvest. (Glyphosate is generally applied early in the growing season. It would not do much good to control weeds late in the season after they have already reduced crop yields.) The crop would then need to be harvested, processed, cooked, consumed, and digested. The glyphosate molecule or its degradates would then have to reach the DNA in the nucleus of dividing cells in sufficient quantity to cause harm.

Glyphosate controls weeds by inhibiting the EPSP (5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate) synthase enzyme which is involved in production of aromatic amino acids. So why does this not harm human? Animals do not possess this enzyme, so it cannot be targeted.

Is glyphosate toxic to humans? Yes, at a high enough dose. However, this dose is higher than anyone would be exposed to unintentionally. (Remember, everything is toxic at a high enough dose, including water.)

As for the inert ingredients, yes they can be toxic. However, they are tested along with the active ingredient. Also, they have to go through the same paths as the active ingredient to cause harm.

Glyphosate is a very useful herbicide which has allowed growers to reduce their use of tillage for weed control. This reduces soil erosion and improves land productivity. The alternative is to rely more on tillage which would increase erosion and cause soil loss, sedimentation in water bodies, and loss of aquatic habitat. (This is what organic producers do.)

labelGMOs's picture

The practices of Monanto are not sustainable. Superweeds ans superbugs have increased herbicide/pesticide use by 1500%

dunno's picture

For those of you who are so forcefully coming to the aid of farmers who are forced to plant GMO crops, can I just tell you, FARMERS ARE NOT STUPID. They are in fact business men an women who make decisions about planting certain varieties that will be best for their land, their business and their families. Your comments about how GMOs are hurting farmers are amusing, but misguided and inappropriate. Why don't you go ask some farmers that actually plant GMO about why they do it. More of them will speak up on this site as time goes on. Stop the pandering...

Transparency's picture

@AgrSci1 – First, I find your choice of words “unscientific rant” to be derogatory and unnecessary for the purpose of better understanding.
Second, if you had noted my reference, you would know the words I shared – what you refer to a “rant” -- are not my own, but from a referenced site.
I will address your comments as follows:
1) You say, “In the real world, after application, glyphosate is subject to many microbial and chemical degradation processes which break it down.” If it breaks down to such a degree that concern is not warranted, then why is it that people in Europe were tested and found to have weed killer glyphosate in their urine? Is this degree of prevalence not a concern to you? Not even worth questioning or analyzing?
Friends of the Earth Europe spokesman, Adrian Bebb, said, “Most people will be worried to discover they may have weed killer in their bodies. We tested people living in cities in 18 countries and found traces in every country. These results suggest we are being exposed to glyphosate in our everyday lives, yet we don't know where it is coming from, how widespread it is in the environment, or what it is doing to our health.”
"Our testing highlights a serious lack of action by public authorities across Europe and indicates that this weed killer is being widely overused. Governments need to step-up their monitoring and bring in urgent measures to reduce its use…."
2) You write, “Is glyphosate toxic to humans? Yes, at a high enough dose. However, this dose is higher than anyone would be exposed to unintentionally. (Remember, everything is toxic at a high enough dose, including water.)”
Well, according to the journal “Free Radical Medicine & Biology”, glyphosate is implicated in male infertility, at concentration ranges well within the EPA’s “safe level” for food. [Source,]
“Performed by Brazilian researchers, the study found acute Roundup exposure at low doses (36ppm, 0.036g/L) for 30 minutes induced cell death in Sertoli cells in prepubertal rat testis. Sertoli cells are known as ‘mother’ or ‘nurse’ cells within the testicles, as they are responsible for maintaining the health of sperm cells, and are required for normal male sexual development.”
“Roundup herbicide exposure was found to induce oxidative stress and to activate multiple-stress response pathways within affected cells, and was associated with an increase in intracellular calcium (Ca2+) concentration leading to Ca2+ overload, and cell death.”
I highlight this study in particular because you imply the studies I noted previously were flawed: “Isolated human cells were exposed to huge doses of glyphosate in petri dishes.”
The study in the journal “FRM&B” used *LOW* doses which induced cell death.
3) You write: “Glyphosate controls weeds by inhibiting the EPSP (5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate) synthase enzyme which is involved in production of aromatic amino acids. So why does this not harm human? Animals do not possess this enzyme, so it cannot be targeted.”
Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discovered another avenue of harm. Her study, published in “Entropy” argues that glyphosate residues “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.” Gut bacteria, she says, are key to glyphosate’s harm to the cells. The mechanism of harm, the shikimate pathway which is absent in animals, is present in bacteria. Glyphosate causes disruption of the microbe’s function via this “shikimate pathway”. She says glyphosate is possibly “the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies.”
When a researcher from one of the world’s most renown and respected educational institutions has results such as these, I think it’s worth at least taking a closer look.

NeedsTheTruth's picture

Jodi, why do you think your opinion holds any value. you just agreed that you dont get to decide about their hapiness, and then you go ahead, and decide for them anyways. You are obviously a liar and will say anything to pretend you know what you are talking about. Again, you dont get to decide that planting poison has increased their quality of the farmers life, so please just keep your "opinion" to yourself.

Its obvious that you lack the ability to think consistently, you are obviously inclined to proving yourself, and therefor have proven you are not interested in the truth.

oh and when you say spend more time, what about all those farmers who are dying? what about the ones complaining of skin rashes, and diseases, and constant illness? are we just ignoring those? ok so they have a slightly shorter work day, but they have a way shorter and harder life. good job.

NeedsTheTruth's picture

oh and one more thing, you "helped" the quality of a few farmers, what about the millions of people and animals that suffer disease from BT. You think farmers like when their grazing animals die from grazing on BT products? yep, life is easy when everything just dies around you.

Cornlover's picture

NeedsTheTruth you ether don't have the brain power or you just don't want to understand.AgrSci1 and the expert gave not only good but correct answers the science of it all and cornfedfarmer gave great answer of real life practices of a farmer.Sitting in front of a computer doesn't make you an expert, try getting out and talking to people that are in this field.

Community Manager's picture

Thanks to the members of the community – particularly @AgrSci1 – for your fact-based and non-confrontational comments. There are a few additional questions which have been submitted which focus specifically on glyphosate. We’ll be posting answers from our experts on this topic soon.
@NeedsTheTruth please be respectful of the members of this community. Name-calling will not be tolerated.
@cornfedfarmer – thanks for bringing forward your perspective as a farmer.
@transparency – you may find Kevin Folta’s insights on Dr. Seneff in this post interesting

achood4mu's picture

@labelGMOs - can you please cite the scientific sources for your data? Any reputable studies that I have read clearly show that GMOs have decreased pesticide use significantly and also decreased toxic herbicide use. Thanks!

Transparency's picture

To the Community Manager, since you commented re Dr. Seneff's work, I will address that here.

While I don’t necessarily agree with all off Dr. Seneff’s conclusions, I think universally condemning, dismissing, or trashing a researcher’s body of work is going into dangerous territory.

One has to look at, and dissect their work with a critical eye. How much of their work could have some validity? 10 percent? 20 percent? 50 percent?

Personally, I think Dr. Seneff raises very valid questions about glyphosate’s interaction with gut bacteria. How many studies have been done in this area, aside from Dr. Seneff’s? Few or none? Well, then, isn’t it about time some independent studies (not paid for by big Agra) be done to analyze this interaction between gut bacteria and glyphosate? If she is so wrong and off-base as some imply, then why don’t scientists “prove” her wrong by doing extensive testing in the area of gut bacteria and glyphosate?

Gut bacteria influence how our cells behave, and they are a large and essential part of our physiology.

At the very least, there may be a kernel of truth here that needs to be seriously studied, analyzed, and presented in peer review journals.

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher

Community Manager's picture

Thanks @transparency - you raise several great points. We recommend you submit a new question specifically on this topic so that we can route it to one of our experts for a response. Thank you for your participation.

AgrSci1's picture

Stephanie Seneff is a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. She is not a biologist, chemist, physiologist, etc. She is simply using using her MIT positions to add weight to statements that she makes concerning topics about which she is ignorant.