In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate, the world’s most widely-sprayed herbicide and main active ingredient in Roundup weed killer, is probably carcinogenic to humans. Last year, Bayer AG, which owns the glyphosate-based Roundup brand after acquiring the Monsanto Corporation in 2018 for $63 billion, announced that it would settle approximately 90,000 Roundup cancer lawsuits for nearly $11 billion.
Due to the media attention surrounding the massive settlement, glyphosate has been one of the most controversial stories, encompassing the realms of public health, law and agriculture. Due to the perceived environmental and health concerns, several countries and municipalities have banned glyphosate.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency considers glyphosate to be safe when applied in accordance with the application instructions, the agency recently drafted a report which concluded that the herbicide/pesticide is likely detrimental to hundreds of endangered species of plants and animals.
The concerns surrounding glyphosate are serving as catalysts for alternative weed- and pest-control strategies. Using natural weed killers is one option. However, for large-scale farms, using essential oils and vinegar, to name a couple natural alternatives to glyphosate, may not be practical to scale.
One solution for industrial agriculture is artificial intelligence (AI). According to a South African financial news source, MoneyWeb, AI is producing sustainable weedkillers, and helping to become “a new weapon in the battle against crop pests.”
Because weeds have become resistant to glyphosate just as superbugs have become resistant to antibiotics, AI may prove to be a breakthrough for pest and weed management.
As agriculture faces an ever-increasing backlash against traditional pesticides such as glyphosate, MoneyWeb says that AI has spawned collaboration between chemical and biotech companies.
For example, the Basel, Switzerland-based agricultural giant, Syngenta, has been “investing in biological solutions that utilise everything from microbes to insect sex pheromones to combat fungal infections and pests,” MoneyWeb reports. Syngenta’s CEO, Erik Fyrwald recently said that the company “wants to retreat from conventional chemicals into products less toxic to humans and more resilient to climate change.”
Unfortunately, it will likely take several years before regulatory agencies approve the new technologies for the marketplace. Moreover, some opponents of AI are concerned that AI may lead to the elimination of itinerant farmers and other farmworkers.