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Monsanto Sees Opportunity in Glyphosate Resistant Volunteer Weeds

by David Dechant

(Aug. 3, 2001 –CropChoice opinion) -- While some see the unwanted presence of glyphosate resistant volunteer corn plants in a field of RR soybeans (Roundup Ready, resistant to glyphosate) as a problem inherent with relying on the RR system two or more years in a row, Monsanto sees opportunity: just get a patent on the practice of mixing with glyphosate other herbicides having a different mode of action, and on the premixtures thereof!

Never mind the fact that there is nothing novel about the practice of mixing herbicides with different modes of action, as this has been done as long as there have been herbicides. Never mind that nearly any farmer could figure out on his own which herbicides to mix. That doesn't matter to the US Patent Office, as Monsanto is now the proud owner of US Patent no.6,239,072.

The abstract of the two-month-old patent reads as such:

"The present invention is directed to tank mixtures and premixtures of a glyphosate herbicide and a second herbicide to which a first species is susceptible and a second species is resistant. Such tank mixtures and premixtures allow control of glyphosate-susceptible weeds and glyphosate-tolerant volunteer individuals of the first species in a crop of glyphosate-tolerant second species with a single application of herbicide."

This sure flies in the face of the argument that RR crops require only glyphosate or less herbicide for weed control. Because of the presence of weedy glyphosate tolerant corn volunteers, farmers now routinely apply a second herbicide when they are present in a field of RR soybeans. In fact, many times farmers now have do so even if the previous corn crop was not RR, because of cross-pollination from nearby fields of such corn.

In some cases, Monsanto even chips in for the second herbicide, especially when the farmer grows RR corn. Now, it appears Monsanto wants to prevent anyone from mixing on their own the following herbicides with glyphosate, as well as to corner the market for premixtures containing them: Assure, Poast, Fusilade, Select, Pursuit, and Raptor, their generic equivalents, and other non-glyphosate herbicides. It also looks like Monsanto intends the same for controlling glyphosate resistant volunteer wheat and rice plants, too, when they are present in fields of RR soybeans, canola, sugarbeets, or cotton.

Reading the patent description further, the scope of the "invention" broadens:

"Therefore, the scope of the present invention reasonably covers the presently-known glyphosate-tolerant corn, cotton, soybean, wheat, canola, sugarbeet, rice, and lettuce, and any glyphosate-tolerant crop species that may be developed. Also, although the development of glyphosate-tolerant plants by use of conventional breeding without recombinant DNA techniques is currently believed to be highly unlikely, if any such naturally glyphosate-tolerant plants are developed they would fall within the scope of the current invention."

This patent even covers glyphosate resistant crops that don't exist yet and maybe never will!

Reading still further, one finds examples of more combinations of glyphosate volunteer plants that can be controlled in glyphosate resistant crops, as sorghum and peanuts are added to the mix. One can't help but wonder if that includes everything!

At any rate, Monsanto does admit that there could be one limitation to modifying crops to be tolerant to glyphosate: the presence of glyphosate tolerant weeds other than those from tolerant volunteer crop species. But it downplays this, saying "No uncultivated species of weed has been observed to naturally develop glyphosate-tolerance, and the flow of genes for glyphosate tolerance from crop plants to related wild species is not expected to occur."

Perhaps the authors of the patent never saw the numerous reports, a few here on CropChoice, about weeds in certain areas exhibiting an increased tolerance to glyphosate applications. And while there may be no cases of glyphosate tolerant genes jumping from RR crops into weeds, http://www.weedscience.org (search for glycines) reports that there already are resistant types of ryegrass, goosegrass, and horseweed in different parts of the world.

Finally, this absurd patent, which reads more like a scam than a description of an invention, shows just how desperate Monsanto is to hang on to its near monopoly in glyphosate, its cash cow for well over a decade.

Monsanto's patent on glyphosate expired last September. However, farmers in the US still pay twice as much for glyphosate as do their competitors elsewhere in the world. That's because all generic startups either have to develop from scratch the required EPA registration data, which takes a long time and a lot of money, or go to the original registrant, Monsanto in this case, and get a license to use its registration data. Of course, they pay dearly for this, with the result they have to overcharge for a long time to pay off the licensing fee.

But someday, the generic competition will become more aggressive. So if Monsanto can no longer monopolize the glyphosate molecule itself, there's nothing better than trying to monopolize the uses of glyphosate and the premixtures, as well as the fix to a problem it caused in the first place, i.e., resistant volunteers. Last of all, thanks to the inept US Patent and Trademark Office for facilitating this scheme, as well as countless others.

Search on patent US patent #6,239,072 at http://www.uspto.gov/patft/index.html

David Dechant grows wheat, corn and alfalfa in Colorado