Monsanto's patented Roundup Ready seeds and crops have become commonplace in American agriculture and are commonly used in food production worldwide. According to the United Nations University (UNU), a majority of some crops in the United States is produced using Roundup Ready seeds. UNU reports 90 percent of American soy, 85 percent of American corn, and 95 percent of American sugar beets are genetically modified.
Roundup is the trade name used by Monsanto for its glyphosate-based herbicide. This herbicide was developed and patented by Monsanto in the 1970s. Roundup is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it kills most plants onto which it is sprayed. Initially, roundup was sprayed on parts of fields that avoided the commercial crops. However, Monsanto has created patented seeds which are able to survive Roundup exposure.
Monsanto began researching genetically modified crops, often called genetically modified organisms (GMO) before 1982. They created the first genetically modified plant cell, however, in 1982. After 14 years of research, the first large-scale genetically engineered crop was planted in 1996. These genetic modifications were designed to make crops grown from Monsanto's patented genetically modified seeds resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.
According to Monsanto, buying, planting and growing Monsanto-engineered seeds allows a farmer or gardener to spray the entire field or garden with Roundup. This kills all plants except the genetically modified crop. This will, in theory, reduce nutrient competition and increase crop yields.
Part of the Monsanto contract prohibits the collection and saving of seeds by anyone using Monsanto's GMO seeds. This forces farmers to buy fresh seed from Monsanto every year. By buying Monsanto's seed, farmers and gardeners are required to use Monsanto's herbicide. In addition, because Monsanto owns a patent on the genetic material in crops grown from its seed, issues can result from contamination of nearby fields through natural pollination vectors. This has resulted in a number of lawsuits, both by Monsanto against farmers whose crops have been contaminated and suits by farmers against Monsanto.
Although Roundup Ready crops can initially increase crop yields, over time weeds can develop a tolerance to the herbicide. As years go by, according to the New York Times, farmers and gardeners must use increasing levels of Monsanto's herbicide to maintain weed-free gardens and fields. In time, the weeds will become so resistant that farmers or gardeners will have to mix the herbicide directly in the soil.