Scientists Have Finally Agreed on a Definition for Superweeds. So What?

Photo by Debra Murphy, 2014.

If you look up the term “superweed,” you’ll likely find a definition that includes “herbicide-resistance” and “accidental crossing” of genetically engineered plants and their “wild” counterparts. But, that could be changing, thanks in part to the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA).

Organizations Endorsing Definition:
Weed Science Society of America
Aquatic Plant Management Society
Canadian Weed Science Society
North Central Weed Science Society
Northeastern Weed Science Society
Southern Weed Science Society
Western Society of Weed Science.
“Since superweed is now clearly part of the public vernacular, we decided to offer a definition that more clearly reflects the true source of herbicide resistance,” said Lee Van Wychen, Ph.D., WSSA science policy director.

With the help of six sister organizations, WSSA announced a definition for “superweeds” this week that doesn’t single out one category of resistance:

Superweed Slang used to describe a weed that has evolved characteristics that make it more difficult to manage due to repeated use of the same management tactic. Over-dependence on a single tactic as opposed to using diverse approaches can lead to such adaptations.

What Difference Does it Make?

Achieving scientific consensus on a term, no matter how misused or fabricated at the outset, is the first step in agricultural experts having an snowball’s chance in …Texas… of reaching consumers, sharing facts and countering misinformation. Why? Because we live in a world of Dr. Google — and SEO (search engine optimization) — reigns. Take a moment to Google “GMOs.” What do you see?

Defining “superweed” in a factual context by first acknowledging how the term has been used in the vernacular is perhaps a first step in weighing in on other radicalized terms, like factory farm, monoculture, and, dare we say it?, GMO.

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