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History of Roundup Ready Soybeans

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The History of Roundup Ready Soybeans covers only the history of genetically engineered soybeans that have had their DNA altered to allow them to withstand the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup). They are also known as "glyphosate tolerant" soybeans. For more information on Roundup Ready Soybeans, see the article on Roundup Ready Soybeans.

Initial Development

Discovery of Gene

Monsanto first began talking about creating "Roundup Ready" crops in the early 1980s, although the first such crops (Roundup Ready Soybeans) did not actually premier on the market until 1996:

"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."[1]

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).[2] 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."[3] In October of that year, Comai's team published their own work in Nature.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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."[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

Deregulation and Commercialization

1994: U.S. Deregulates Roundup Ready Soybeans

On December 6, 1993, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) published a notice in the Federal Register announcing that it had received a petition from Monsanto to deregulate (legalize) their Roundup Ready soybeans, MON 04032. The notice solicited public comments, due on or before February 4, 1994. On May 18, 1994, APHIS deregulated MON 04032.[11]

1996: Canada Deregulates Roundup Ready Soybeans

Canada deregulated MON 04032 on April 9, 1996.[12]

1996: U.S. Introduction of Roundup Ready Soybeans

RR soybeans were commercialized in the U.S. 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.[13] 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.[14] 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 RR 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 Glyphosate Tolerant soybeans. However, the EU announced its decision to grant the GE beans permission on April 3, 1996.[15]

Glyphosate Resistant Weeds

After a few years of widespread adoption of RR soybeans, glyphosate resistant weeds begin to emerge.

  • 2000: The first glyphosate resistant horseweed (Conyza canadensis) in the U.S. is discovered. They are found in the U.S. in soybeans.[16]
  • 2004: The first glyphosate resistant Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) and Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) in the U.S. is discovered. They are found in the U.S. in soybeans.[17]
  • 2005: The first glyphosate resistant Palmer Amaranth and Common Waterhemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus (syn. rudis)) in the U.S. is discovered. They are found in soybeans and cotton.[18][19]
  • 2007: The first glyphosate resistant Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense) in the U.S. is discovered. They are found in the U.S. in soybeans.[20]

Next Generation RR Soybean Varieties

2008: Monsanto Introduces "Second Generation" Technology

Monsanto developed an updated version of its Roundup Ready trait in soybeans. The new version, MON 89788, was deregulated in the U.S. and Canada in 2007. In 2008, Monsanto first commercialized MON 89788 soybeans, branding them "Roundup Ready 2 Yield®" and marketing them as "the second generation of the popular Roundup Ready® technology farmers have used since 1996."[21] In 2009, Monsanto unveiled a new branding effort, bringing all of its products together under one brand called "Genuity." Beginning in 2010, soybeans with the MON 89788 trait were branded as "Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield."[22]

2008: U.S. Deregulates Pioneer's Glyphosate Tolerant Soybean

On July 24, 2008, APHIS deregulated Pioneer Hi-Bred 's Event 356043 soybeans.[23] In addition to being glyphosate tolerant, it is also tolerant of ALS Inhibiting herbicides..

2009: Canada Deregulates Pioneer's Glyphosate Tolerant Soybean

On September 23, 2009, Canada deregulated Pioneer Hi-Bred's Glyphosate Tolerant Event 356043 soybeans.[24]

2011: U.S. Deregulates Monsanto's "Improved Fatty Acid Profile" RR Soybean

On December 16, 2011, the U.S. deregulatesd Monsanto's "Improved Fatty Acid Profile Soybean," MON 87705. In addition to the soybean's altered oil profile, it is also Roundup Ready.[25]

2012: U.S. Considers Deregulating Several New Glyphosate Tolerant Soybeans

As of 2012, the USDA is also evaluating petitions to deregulate the following glyphosate tolerant soybeans:[26]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 60.
  2. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 63.
  3. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 65-66.
  4. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 67.
  5. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 68-69.
  6. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 82-84.
  7. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 151.
  8. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 112.
  9. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 113-114.
  10. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 120.
  11. Federal Register, Vol. 59, No. 99, May 24, 1994.
  12. Novel Food Decisions - Approved Products, Health Canada, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  13. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 151.
  14. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 152-154.
  15. Daniel Charles, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, p. 163-164.
  16. Herbicide Resistant Weeds: Horseweed, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  17. Herbicide Resistant Weeds: Giant Ragweed, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  18. Herbicide Resistant Weeds: Palmer Amaranth, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  19. Herbicide Resistant Weeds: Common Waterhemp, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  20. Herbicide Resistant Weeds: Palmer Amaranth, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  21. Monsanto Company History, Accessed August 14, 2012.
  22. Product Safety Summaries, Accessed August 13, 2012.
  23. Federal Register, Vol. 73, No. 143, July 24, 2008.
  24. Novel Food Decisions - Approved Products, Health Canada, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  25. Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 242, December 16, 2011.
  26. Petitions for Nonregulated Status Pending, USDA, Accessed August 9, 2012.

External resources

External articles