In DepthAgricultural Science

Jury verdicts cloud future of popular herbicide

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Science  24 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6442, pp. 717-718
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6442.717

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Agricultural researchers and farmers are worried about the future of glyphosate, an herbicide that has become crucial to weed control and soil conservation. A leading manufacturer has suffered three legal defeats, in which California juries determined that the company was liable for causing cancer. According to regulatory agencies the herbicide is safe when used properly, but some scientists say the moment is ripe to push for new and diverse forms of weed control. If glyphosate is ever pulled from the market, farmers could turn to other herbicides, but all have drawbacks. Chemical companies have ramped up their R&D efforts for new kinds of herbicides. Companies are also engineering crops to tolerate multiple herbicides because more than 40 weed species worldwide have evolved resistance to glyphosate, spurred by its heavy use. For high-value crops, autonomous robots are becoming viable for weeding.