Bayer Forging Ahead with New GE Corn That Can Withstand 5 Herbicides


Herbicide Products | Bayer Crop Science Canada

Photo: Bayer

By Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

Bayer, the parent company of Monsanto, is “forging ahead” with developing genetically engineered (GE) crops that could be used with at least five herbicides at once, Lisa Held reported last week in Civil Eats. One such crop, a GE variety of corn, is currently under consideration for approval by the US Department of Agriculture. According to Civil Eats, the corn is expected to launch “mid-to-late this decade.”  The new GE corn is intended to be used in concert with, meaning it will be “resistant” to and not die even after being sprayed with any one of five major herbicides including glyphosate and dicamba.

Why This Matters:  Just last month, we reported that Bayer would pay almost $11 billion– one of the largest settlements in US civil litigation— to those who claimed the weedkiller Roundup caused them to develop cancer. While public health and environmental activists lauded the recent win, the fact that Bayer is likely to get approval for this new crop, which would be resistant to the active chemical in Roundup, suggests that the losses in court had and will continue to have little impact on the company’s trajectory. Just because these herbicides won’t “harm” GE corn does not mean they won’t harm humans and other organisms.

A New Kind of Corn?

            The corn in question, according to the petition submitted the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, would be “genetically engineered for dicamba, glufosinate, quizalofop, and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid tolerance with tissue-specific glyphosate tolerance.” As Bill Freese, a policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, told Civil Eats, a crop resistant to at least five herbicides is “certainly a record.” However, according to Held, it is “not a surprising next step for the industry, which has been increasingly introducing multi-herbicide-resistant varieties.”

Bayer wants to introduce a corn resistant to so many different herbicides because many weeds have developed a resistance to certain herbicides. By engineering a crop resistant to multiple herbicides, Bayer believes they can ensure more effective eradication of weeds without harming the crops.  A spokesperson told Civil Eats that “Bayer is committed to and stands fully behind our Roundup and XtendiMax herbicides. We are proud of our role in bringing solutions to help growers safely, successfully, and sustainably protect their crops from weeds.”

The Problems of Herbicides

            But at what cost will Bayer continue on this path? According to Civil Eats, the potential cost is gargantuan. Not only has the World Health Organization called glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans,” but, as Held reported, many of the herbicides the corn would be resistant to have already wreaked havoc on ecosystems around the country. The introduction of crops engineered to be resistant to the major chemicals in herbicides means that the volume of use of herbicides will most likely increase. That, coupled with the “lack of data on the effects of using so many different herbicides on the same plants, landscape, and food,” could be disastrous for consumers and producers alike.

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