Genetically engineered (GE) soybeans and corn are increasingly important for the economies of Wisconsin and the nation, as well as for various countries in Latin America, which are the world’s largest producers of these crops.
At the same time, these crops face escalating resistance.
As an environmental humanist, I’ve joined forces with Sainath Suryanarayanan, a biologist and social scientist, to study the complex network of changes introduced by GE crops in ecosystems and cultural landscapes in the Hispanic world through the lens of resistance.
Take Argentina, which has grown GE crops longer than any nation in South America. Consequently, it has experienced economic growth, but also deforestation, floods, chemical contamination of groundwater and soil and the encroachment of soy plantations on indigenous peoples’ reservations.
As this played out, many weeds have acquired resistance to the herbicide used with GE soy.
Many growers fight these mutant, stubborn weeds by multiplying pesticide applications several-fold. That, in turn, has sparked public concern about spikes in cancers, birth malformations and hypothyroidism in some adjoining communities.
As if prompted by the biological resistance of weeds, human communities began to resist, posing yet another obstacle for the bio-economy of GE crops.
We call these intertwined networks of resistances “interspecies resistance,” and observe it in many other geographical areas.
Identifying relationships between the acquisition of resistance by plants, insects and microbes – and the rise of people’s resistance – will be critical.
It will allow us to better understand how economies, environments and cultures transform through synergies, and how non-humans can sometimes take the lead in shaping directions of these changes.