History of Roundup Ready Crops
The History of Roundup Ready Crops covers only the history of Roundup Ready Crops, genetically engineered crops that have had their DNA altered to allow them to withstand the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient of Monsanto's herbicide Roundup). They are also known as "glyphosate tolerant crops." For more information, please see the main article on Roundup Ready Crops.
- 1 History
- 2 Articles and resources
Discovery of Gene
- "One day in the early 1980s, not long after Robb Fraley arrived at Monsanto, he met with two veterans of the company's pesticide business. One of them suggested a project for Fraley's team of genetic engineers. The company, he said, had found some bacteria that appeared to survive in the presence of Roundup, Monsanto's new herbicide. Why didn't Fraley and his gene wizards somehow find the gene responsible for this and splice it into plants? Plants that could similarly tolerate doses of Roundup could open up vast new markets for the herbicide. If farmers could plant Roundup-tolerant soybeans, for instance, they could spray Roundup on those fields, killing all the weeds without harming the crop.
- "Fraley, according to one of the Monsanto veterans, reacted with scorn. "If all we can do [with biotechnology] is sell more damned herbicide, we shouldn't be in this business."...
- "Yet within a few years Fraley was singing a very different tune. Roundup tolerance became the project that bankrolled Monsanto's pursuit of genetically engineered crops... It was the project on which Fraley built his career within the company."
By 1982, Monsanto was already working on creating Roundup Ready crops. So was Luca Comai, a scientist from Calgene (a biotech company that Monsanto would later acquire). In the summer of 1985, Monsanto successfully created petunia plants tolerant of small amounts of Roundup "but not to the amounts that farmers typically spray on weeds." In October of that year, Comai's team published their own work in Nature. Still, neither group produced anything that could be commercialized.
By 1989, Monsanto was closer to their goal. Then they hit a breakthrough, with help from an unexpected source. Monsanto's Luling, LA plant manufactured Roundup and released glyphosate residues into its waste ponds. There, in the ponds, were bacteria that had naturally evolved resistance to glyphosate. They had been discovered by Monsanto's waste cleanup division, which hoped the bacteria could somehow help them clean up the environment. But ultimately, the group working on genetic engineering heard about them and found that it worked better than anything else they had tried to create Roundup tolerant plants.
1989: The Deal With Asgrow
In 1989, three companies struck a deal: Agracetus, Asgrow (then owned by Upjohn and later acquired by Monsanto), and Monsanto. Up until this point, Monsanto had trouble transferring genes into the most valuable crops on the market, corn and soybeans, using its existing method of genetic engineering. Agracetus offered a new method, called a gene gun. In hopes of using it on soybeans, Agracetus had approached Asgrow, a leading soybean seed company. The two approached Monsanto because they needed a gene worthy of engineering into Asgrow's soybeans. Monsanto gave them free access to the Roundup Ready gene.
1992: The Deal with Pioneer
"By 1992 [CEO] Dick Mahoney and others at Monsanto had run out of patience with their biotechnology project. The word came down to Fraley and his associates: Back up your theories with some commercial deals or shut down most of your program." In an effort to meet that challenge, Monsanto met with the seed company Pioneer, the giant of the corn seed industry, which also sold soybean seeds. (Pioneer was later acquired by DuPont.) At the time, Monsanto calculated that Roundup Ready soybeans were worth up to an extra $15 per acre to farmers, and they wanted to keep 75 percent of the extra money farmers would spend on seeds - giving only 25 percent of the increased profit to the seed companies. They also wanted the words "Roundup Ready" printed on the bags of seeds.
The negotiations set the stage for a long term rivalry between the two companies. Pioneer "wanted the rights to Monsanto's genes; they just didn't want to pay much money for them." Late in 1992, the two companies made their deal. DuPont paid a one-time payment of half a million dollars for the rights to use Monsanto's Roundup resistance gene in its soybeans forever. Monsanto's profit would come entirely via the additional sales of Roundup it would gain.
1996: Introduction of Roundup Ready Soybeans
Roundup Ready soybeans were commercialized in 1996 by both Asgrow and Pioneer. Leading up to their release, in 1995, Asgrow set up field demonstrations and let farmers spray the fields with Roundup. Asgrow sold every bag of seed it produced - enough to cover a million acres - and could have sold more. Monsanto successfully renegotiated its deal with Asgrow to allow Monsanto to charge a separate "technology fee" for each bag of seeds sold, licensing farmers to use its genes within the seeds and banning the farmers from replanting saved seeds in the future. At first the technology fee was $5 per acre of soybeans and it later rose to $6.50 per acre. Under their deal, Monsanto returned most of the technology fee to Asgrow and then enforced its ban on saving seeds. Monsanto attempted to do the same with Pioneer, but Pioneer refused.
At the time when farmers planted the first Roundup Ready soybeans in the U.S., neither Japan or the EU had yet agreed to allow imports of the genetically engineered soybeans. As a full half of the U.S. soybean harvest was exported at the time, this was a big deal - and American farmers had unknowingly taken a big risk by planting Roundup Ready soybeans. However, the EU announced its decision to grant the GE beans permission on April 3, 1996.
Release of Other Roundup Ready Crops
Roundup Ready crops now include:
- Roundup Ready Alfalfa (first commercialized in 2005)
- Roundup Ready Canola (first commercialized in Canada in 1997)
- Roundup Ready Corn (first commercialized in 1998)
- Roundup Ready Cotton (first commercialized in 1997)
- Roundup Ready Soybeans (first commercialized in 1996)
- Roundup Ready Sugarbeets (first commercialized in 2005)
Articles and resources
Related SourceWatch articles
- Roundup Ready Crops
- Genetically Modified Organisms
- Glyphosate Resistant Weeds
- Roundup Ready Soybeans
- Roundup Ready Corn
- Roundup Ready Canola
- Roundup Ready Cotton
- Roundup Ready Sugarbeets
- Roundup Ready Alfalfa
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 60.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 63.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 65-66.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 67.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 68-69.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 82-84.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 151.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 112.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 113-114.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 120.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 151.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 152-154.
- Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 163-164.
- Determinations of Non-Regulated Status, USDA, Accessed August 9, 2012.
- Geertson Seed Farms v. Johanns, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
- Monsanto - Company History, Accessed August 1, 2012.
- Tadlock Cowan and Kristina Alexander, "Deregulating Genetically Engineered Alfalfa and Sugar Beets," Congressional Research Service, January 25, 2012.
- Petitions for Nonregulated Status Pending, USDA, Accessed August 9, 2012.
- GM Crop Database, Center for Environmental Risk Assessment
- Overview of GMO Events Commercially Available and Regulatory Status
- Novel Food Decisions - Approved Products, Health Canada.
- Charles Benbrook, "Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years" and Supplemental Tables, The Organic Center, 2009.
- "Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops," Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009.
- Dan Charles, "Farmers Face Tough Choice On Ways To Fight New Strains Of Weeds," NPR, March 7, 2012.
- Jack Kaskey, "Attack of the Superweed: New strains resist Roundup, the world’s top-selling herbicide," Business Week, September 8, 2011.
- Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, "Monsanto's Superweeds & Superbugs," Pesticide Action Network North America, GroundTruth blog, September 8, 2011.
- Michael J. Coren, "Monsanto-Resistant Weeds Take Root, Raising Food Prices," Fast Company, July 20, 2011.
- Tom Philpott, "Monsanto's "Superweeds" Gallop Through Midwest," Mother Jones, July 19, 2011.
- William Neuman and Andrew Pollack, "Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds," New York Times, May 3, 2010.
- Seeds of Doubt, a five part series on agricultural biotechnology from the Sacramento Bee.