A meditation on the nature of technological progress

In 1993, Monsanto told the U.S. Department of Agriculture that “glyphosate is considered to be a herbicide with low risk for weed resistance.”

Oops. Since then, resistance to glyphosate has emerged in 20 different weed species.

I called up several people who were at Monsanto at that time. Why didn’t people there think resistance would happen? They all told a similar story.

The company’s scientists had just spent more than a decade, and many millions of dollars, trying to create the Roundup-resistant plants that they desperately wanted — soybeans and cotton and corn.

Considering how hard it had been to create those crops, “the thinking was, it would be really difficult for weeds to become tolerant” to Roundup, says Rick Cole, who is now responsible for Monsanto’s efforts to deal with the problem of resistant weeds.

– Exerpted and adapted from Why Monsanto Thought Weeds Would Never Defeat Roundup by Dan Charles, March 11, 2012, published in The Salt / NPR.