The Glyphosate Controversy and Bean Walkers

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, ranks the herbicide glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” 

This resulted in fierce rebuttals from the agricultural science community

These recent articles also address the issue:

An international committee of cancer experts shocked the agribusiness world when it announced that two widely used pesticides are “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer published a brief explanation of its conclusions in The Lancet and plans to issue a book-length version later this year. 

Monsanto called on the World Health Organization to withdraw a claim that the most widely used weed killer in the world could cause cancer, with the seed giant accusing the agency of unnecessarily scaring consumers and farmers who use their products.

With the introduction of biotech soybeans, Round Up, and other production methods, things changed rapidly in the Midwest during the past two decades. Now with herbicide-resistant weeds, precision agriculture, and general discussions about growing practices, changes are in the air again. Consumer demand, trade negotiations, environmental concerns, and so-called superweeds might lead to more big changes.

The first paradigm shift occurred when the bean walking crews took off their gloves, hats, and muddy shoes. Ironically–with the invasion of “zombie” weeds–the walkers may need to pull those shoes on again.  

Life Before Biotech: Heat, Mud, and Plants from the Little Shop of Horrors

Genetically modified plants? Roundup ready soybeans? I’ll leave the debate to others, but it’s a fact: The soybeans grown in my home state of Iowa are more than 90% GMO, and that’s not likely to change soon. For the past decade or more, fields have looked like English gardens, with precision rows and soft breezes rippling along the tops of weedless soybean plants. In one respect, it’s a shame. In the pre-GMO days, soybean fields had personality.
The classy ones were neat and orderly, with maybe a few weeds along the fence rows and waterways. The owners kept their cultivators sharpened, and they pounced when weeds showed above the bean rows, especially if drivers could see them from the road.
The casual soybean fields were mixed but salvageable. Wayward stalks of corn would shoot up, cocklebur patches hovered low and menacing, and sections of off-green buttonweeds tried to hide among the soybeans. Farmers usually battled these weeds, with varying results.
Some fields were fashion disasters. Clumps of volunteer corn dotted the rows, burrs and buttonweeds took over sections of the field, and iron weeds looked like sapling trees. Occasionally, thistle patches would get so out of control, somebody would just have to post an “Enter at your own risk” sign.
In the 1960s, soybean fields made for good talking points. By June it was obvious which would need to be “walked”—weeded by stoop laborers…or teenagers…or us. Farmers would hire youngsters to go row-by-row to pull weeds. My siblings, cousins, and I started walking beans on the home place about as soon as we were potty-trained, but Dad let us hire out to neighbors by the time we were 12 or so. Child labor laws were flexible then, and the 50 cents an hour wage that first year didn’t bring the IRS down on us.
We’d often start early to beat the heat; dew-drenched, with mud sticking to our Keds’ sneakers, we’d trudge along, pulling most weeds, chopping some, and basically wrestling with the ones that seemed more like Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors. Heat, thirst, and blow flies were irritating, but mud clod fights with a cousin eight rows over could be dangerous. It was satisfying to see the field get “clean and tidy” several rows at a time, but we were really after pocket money to buy a top-40 vinyl record or admission to the roller skating rink a farm family had set up in a nearby converted hog barn.
I’m not blaming the GMO crowd, but soybean fields became soul-less—bland and beautiful, like some type of cloned fields of dreams. As I said, I’ll let others debate the ethics of genetically modifying plants, but I do know that you should be careful of what you wish for. Today’s soybean fields are what we worked so hard to get back when we were doing hand-to-hand combat with cockleburs, thistles, and “stink weeds.” Roundup weeded us bean walkers out too. 
by dan gogerty (bottom pic from

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