In a carefully orchestrated exchange during an April 9, 2019 House Appropriations Committee hearing, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue asserted that Europe is an “[ag] technology-free zone” and will pay a big price as agricultural productivity suffers.
What prompted this striking assertion?
Coverage of the Secretary’s comments in EURACTIV.com identifies what prompted the Secretary’s comment:
“’What we’re seeing in the EU along this route [GMOs and glyphosate use], I call it the ‘technology-free zone.’ […] I think again they will pay the price for this in the future,’ Perdue said.
The US official made this statement following a question about the future of the world’s most commonly used weedkiller, Bayer’s Roundup, which contains the controversial chemical substance glyphosate.”
In the same hearing, the Secretary expressed concern over the future of Roundup, citing the impact of ongoing litigation on the linkage between long-term Roundup use and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
According to the Secretary, Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) are crucial to the productivity of American agriculture, but are in jeopardy after two unanimous jury decisions in favor of plaintiffs suffering from NHL, coupled with multiple-million dollar financial awards.
The Secretary has also voiced concern over the decision by several countries and political jurisdictions to ban further use of Roundup and GBHs. For example, the USDA issued an official, April 11, 2019 statement by the Secretary in response to a decision by Vietnam to stop importing glyphosate-based herbicides:
“We are disappointed in Vietnam’s decision to ban glyphosate, a move that will have devastating impacts on global agricultural production.”
The USDA release does not go on to quantify the “devastating impacts” on global food production from Vietnam’s decision to end use of GBHs.
In the EURACTIV.com story, Secretary Purdue had more to say:
“’I’m afraid that while groups that oppose these types of uses [of herbicides] have not been able to win on the science side, they’ve chosen the litigation route,’ the US minister said, adding that he hoped the judges will make better decisions in the appeal process.”
Secretary Purdue obviously needs a briefing on the litigation from parties not associated with Bayer.
The Secretary needs to know that “groups” have nothing to do with the NHL litigation. All the plaintiffs are people who personally sprayed a lot of Roundup over many years and, after being diagnosed with NHL, heard about the IARC’s 2015 classification of glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.” Sadly, in many cases suits are being brought by surviving family members of deceased plaintiffs.
Bayer/Monsanto has lost the first two jury verdicts because the science is NOT on their side. Indeed a deep, compelling body of evidence supports the conclusion that the repeated exposures to Roundup by plaintiffs contributed to their disease.
Beyond the need for better understanding of the ongoing litigation, the Secretary’s assertion that Roundup is a pillar of U.S. agricultural productivity is troubling for another, 800-hundred-pound, gorilla-scale reason:
On most conventional corn, soybean, and cotton farms, the overuse and mismanagement of Roundup and GBHs by U.S. farmers have triggered an explosion in glyphosate-resistant weeds, pushing the herbicide treadmill into high gear.
“‘The impact is just unbelievable,’ Culpepper says. ‘We’ve invested over $1.2 billion, just in the cotton industry, for control of glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth since we first discovered it [in 2005].'”
These added herbicide costs are one of the main reasons U.S. cotton farmers are now less competitive in world markets.
In 2019, ubiquitous herbicide-resistant weeds in corn, cotton, and soybean fields, including dozens resistant to several if not nearly all herbicides, are pushing production costs up, while driving productivity and global competitiveness down.
European farmers and regulators chose to take a pass on herbicide-resistant, GMO crops, and as a result, have largely stayed off the herbicide use (and cost) treadmills that are now sapping the economic vitality from U.S. row crop farmers.
The EU, and farm businesses and organizations across Europe, are instead investing in the infrastructure needed to enhance the productivity and sustainability of organic and regenerative agricultural systems. At least in the case of today’s GMO crops, the major distinction between the path chosen in the EU, and Secretary Perdue’s vision of the future of food, boils down to the EU’s confidence in better on-farm management of ecological processes and interactions, versus Secretary Perdue’s continued faith in GMOs and more herbicide.
While our Secretary of Agriculture is sticking with the inherently flawed notion that farmers can spray their way around today’s problems with herbicide-resistant weeds, ag leaders and farmer-innovators across Europe are moving toward systems in which a much greater diversity of tools, including a pound of prevention, keep weeds in check at a fraction of the cost facing many U.S. farmers as they return to the field this planting season.
Hopefully, a weed-management 101 briefing can be scheduled for Secretary Perdue with a resistant-weed veteran like Dr. Culpepper.
The goal — deeper understanding of the degree to which resistant weeds in the U.S. are eroding the productivity and profitability of American agriculture, and as a result, creating new opportunities for farmers abroad to capture export market share the U.S. has owned for nearly half a century.
Sarantis Michalopoulos, “US agriculture minister: Europe will pay the price for ignoring science,” EURACTIV.com, Date published: April 10, 2019, Date accessed” April 11, 2019.