Rene Ebersole, The Nation, October 12, 2017
In 1970, John E. Franz, a 40-year-old chemist from Springfield, Illinois, hit upon a discovery that would profoundly change agriculture: a chemical that works its way into the leaves of weeds and down to their roots, eventually killing them. Franz sold the patent for the breakthrough to his employer, Monsanto, for $5. Four years later, Monsanto released Roundup.
“Weeds? No problem. Nothing kills weeds better,” announced the actors in the commercials for Roundup as they attacked dandelions with spray bottles. The product was an instant success, and in 1987 Franz won the National Medal of Technology for his discovery. Today, Roundup is the most popular herbicide in the world, generating more than $4 billion in annual revenue for Monsanto.
Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is widely perceived to be innocuous in the environment because it targets an enzyme not found in animals or humans. When it comes to plants, however, the chemical kills indiscriminately—except for those plants genetically designed to withstand it. In the 1990s, Monsanto began to sell its patented “Roundup Ready” seeds, allowing farmers to spray for weeds without damaging their crops. The combination of herbicide and resistant seeds helped Monsanto become one of the world’s most powerful agriculture corporations. Today, over 90 percent of domestic soy, corn, and cotton crops are genetically engineered to be glyphosate–resistant, accounting for more than 168 million acres.
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