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posted by martyb on Monday August 01 2016, @08:27PM   Printer-friendly
from the unintended-consequences dept.

The early release of a variety of soybeans resistant to the herbicide dicamba has led to criminal spraying and the death of normal soybean crops:

Dicamba has been around for decades, and it is notorious for a couple of things: It vaporizes quickly and blows with the wind. And it's especially toxic to soybeans, even at ridiculously low concentrations. Damage from drifting pesticides isn't unfamiliar to farmers. But the reason for this year's plague of dicamba damage is unprecedented. "I've never seen anything like this before," says Bob Scott, a weed specialist from the University of Arkansas. "This is a unique situation that Monsanto created."

The story starts with Monsanto because the St. Louis-based biotech giant launched, this year, an updated version of its herbicide-tolerant soybean seeds. This new version, which Monsanto calls "Xtend," isn't just engineered to tolerate sprays of glyphosate, aka Roundup. It's also immune to dicamba.

Monsanto created dicamba-resistant soybeans (and cotton) in an effort to stay a step ahead of the weeds. The strategy of planting Roundup-resistant crops and spraying Roundup to kill weeds isn't working so well anymore, because weeds have evolved resistance to glyphosate. Adding genes for dicamba resistance, so the thinking went, would give farmers the option of spraying dicamba as well, which would clear out the weeds that survive glyphosate. There was just one hitch in the plan. A very big hitch, as it turned out. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet approved the new dicamba weedkiller that Monsanto created for farmers to spray on its new dicamba-resistant crops. That new formulation of dicamba, according to Monsanto, has been formulated so that it won't vaporize as easily, and won't be as likely to harm neighboring crops. If the EPA approves the new weedkiller, it may impose restrictions on how and when the chemical may be used.

But, Monsanto went ahead and started selling its dicamba-resistant soybeans before this herbicide was approved. It gave farmers a new weed-killing tool that they couldn't legally use.


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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by VLM on Monday August 01 2016, @09:10PM

    by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Monday August 01 2016, @09:10PM (#382826)

    Isotope labeling? Carbon average is 12.0107 and C12 and C13 are stable. Its the C14 thats unstable and used for fun archeological stuff. The problem is plants already have an unnatural affinity for C12 (or was it C13) such that its probably not useful. I'm too lazy to look it up because its a bad idea anyway. See next paragraph.

    On a more practical basis, the chemicals came from the neighbors who bought them from a multinational megacorporation. Top down is going to be a lot simpler.

    The problem with a biowarfare attack (interesting idea, eh?) is that any idiot with a mass spectrometer can just buy/steal some dicamba, then copy the isotope reading to frame the legit mfgr by the rail carload if not more. So if NK or Russia wanted to frame Monsanto, they most certainly could.

    There are cryptographic ways to fix this like issuing serial numbers in small batches with a public key signature. So there should only be one pint of serial number 000000000001 dicamba on the loose in the wild and its got a valid sig from Monsanto's public key on it. And no this can't be done with isotope tagging too much detail. And the NSA and Russians would steal the key anyway and be able to make their own sigs. It would be pretty easy to do this with RFID tags on the bottles to prove authenticity.

    Surprising aerospace doesn't do the above. Laser cut into the metal, here's the QR code of this serial numbered, model numbered wing spar signed by Boeing's public key to prove authenticity and a public URL to look up where this specific serial numbered part was last seen.

    Big companies move slow. This being obvious means it'll be 20 years before you see it in public.

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