Roundup Ready

Some of the biggest benefits promised by GE crops are environmental ones. Roundup Ready soybeans are a prime example. Roundup Ready Soybeans are genetically engineered to withstand a specific type of herbicide spray. The herbicide, glyphosate, is designed to work with the GE soybeans. It is less toxic than the traditional mix of chemicals used to kill weeds. Farmers spray the entire field with the herbicide. It kills every plant and weed except the soybeans, which are resistant to glyphosate. According to the USDA, traditional chemical herbicides are three times more toxic than glyphosate, and they persist in the environment for up to twice as long. By switching to the combination of GE soybeans and glyphosate, farmers are using less toxic herbicides, and helping the environment.

Not everyone agrees with that scenario. Critics of GE soybeans say other risks aren't worth the supposed environmental benefits. They worry the herbicide-resistance trait in the beans may transfer to weeds themselves. The weeds would then be resistant to the herbicides too. Stronger, different, or more herbicides would have to be used, cancelling out the intended environmental benefit of the GE soybeans. Critics also say that while glyphosate isn't as toxic as the other herbicides, it's still toxic and can't be classified as harmless to the environment.

Read what the opposition to Roundup Ready crops has to say.

x-axis: year
y-axis: percentage of Roundup Ready soybeans
USDA numbers - adoption of roundup ready soybeans
first available in 1996, 17% of acreage in '97, 56% in '99, 68% in 2001

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Adoption of Bioengineered Crops." (Online.) September 2002.

Explore More: Genetic Engineering
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.