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Roundup Ready - or Not: Increasing Debate in New England

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page, New Hampshire News page, Vermont News page, and our Maine News page.

Fairlee - Six years ago, Larry Martin noticed a strange weed with fuzzy leaves and a woody stalk taking over the corn fields he uses to feed his herd of 65 dairy cows. After researching it, Martin learned that the weed, called velvetleaf, is so invasive that it can reduce a crop yield by as much as 30 percent.

It's also tough to eliminate. After three years of pulling velvetleaf by hand and using various herbicides that didn't work, Martin decided to switch to the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, which is manufactured by Monsanto, the controversial St. Louis-based biotechnology corporation that has become synonymous with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Because spraying Roundup kills both weeds and other plants that come into contact with it, Martin also had to plant Roundup Ready corn, which is genetically modified to resist glyphosate. Introduced in 1998 by Monsanto, Roundup Ready corn is patented and farmers are contractually obligated to buy new seed the following year, rather than saving seed to replant.

After using the Roundup, Martin eventually eradicated the velvetleaf. But as a self-described worrier, he mulls over the decision to use the herbicide. "There's a big controversy, I guess. If somebody came and chewed me out I don't know that I'd have any reasons for using it."

There seems to be little middle ground on the subject of genetically engineered crops, at least in the fractious atmosphere of the media and the Internet. The debate over their use and efficacy is often contentious, even as more American farmers have turned to genetically engineered crops in the last 20 years in the hope that they can boost yields and reduce vulnerability to weeds and pests. Scientists who see the potential of genetic engineering to alleviate hunger, combat disease and mitigate some of the effects of climate change say the risks of genetic engineering to human health have been exaggerated and the science misunderstood or impugned. 
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