Genetically Modified Herbicide-Tolerant Crops, Weeds, and Herbicides: Overview and Impact


Genetically modified (GM) crops have been and continue to be a subject of controversy despite their rapid adoption by farmers where approved. For the last two decades, an important matter of debate has been their impact on pesticide use, particularly for herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops. Some claim that these crops bring about a decrease in herbicide use, while others claim the opposite. In fact, since 1996, most cultivated GMOs have been GMHT crops, which involve the use of an associated herbicide, generally glyphosate. In their very first years of adoption, HT crops often led to some decrease in herbicide use. However, the repetition of glyphosate-tolerant crops and of glyphosate only applications in the same fields without sufficient alternation and herbicide diversity has contributed to the appearance of glyphosate-resistant weeds. These weeds have resulted in a rise in the use of glyphosate and other herbicides. This article explores this situation and the impacts of herbicide-resistant weeds, using an interdisciplinary approach and drawing on recent data. The paper analyzes the spread of GMHT crops worldwide and their consequences on herbicide use in the USA in particular. It then addresses the global development of glyphosate-resistant weeds and their impact, particularly focusing on the USA. Finally, the last section explores how industry, farmers, and weed scientists are coping with the spread of resistant weeds. The concluding comments deal more widely with trends in GM crops.

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  1. 1.

    To determine that a GM plant is no longer considered a regulated article, APHIS evaluates data submitted by the Company and analyzes publicly available scientific data, as well as comments received from the public on the petition for non-regulated status and its associated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on one hand and plant pest risk assessments on the other hand (APHIS 2014).

  2. 2.

    The sales of glyphosate were generally profitable to Monsanto and to a few generic glyphosate producers, despite the fierce competition among them after its patent expiration in the USA. Meanwhile, the market of the other herbicides was greatly affected because it remained rather stagnant. It would be difficult for companies other than Monsanto to invest in prolonging glyphosate life, given that, despite the development of generics, Monsanto has kept a high part of the glyphosate market, notably because of its formulations and marketing (Grand View Research 2014). Therefore, glyphosate sales and glyphosate-tolerant traits were profitable, particularly for Monsanto and a few other companies.



USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Best management practices


Genetically modified


Genetically modified herbicide-tolerant


Genetically modified glyphosate-tolerant


Glyphosate-resistant (for weeds)


Glyphosate-tolerant (for crops)


Herbicide-resistant (for weeds)


Herbicide-tolerant (for crops)


United States Department of Agriculture


USDA Economic Research Service


USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service


US Environmental Protection Agency


US Geological Survey


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This article is the result of a research work carried out without special funding, i.e., with the basic support provided by INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research), which is a public research institute and a publicly funded institution.

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Correspondence to Sylvie Bonny.

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Bonny, S. Genetically Modified Herbicide-Tolerant Crops, Weeds, and Herbicides: Overview and Impact. Environmental Management 57, 31–48 (2016).

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  • Agriculture
  • Transgenic crop
  • GMO impact
  • Herbicide
  • Weed resistance
  • Economics