Killing Bugs, Killing Balance: Weedkillers and Antibiotics

August 26, 2021

How the widespread use of weedkillers and an over-reliance on antibiotics compromise our ability to stay healthy, naturally.  

A new generation of superweeds have been identified that are resistant to pesticides to which they have never been exposed; antibiotic resistant bacteria and fungi threaten to kill millions of people worldwide in a few years’ time. Established authorities are responding to these threats with more of the same: new weedkillers! New drugs! New Antifungals! We must pivot to sustainable approaches grounded in regenerative health and regenerative agriculture; that is, rather than treating sickness and destroying weeds with chemicals, we create healthy, resilient environments in the soil and the human body. 

Weeds are evolving faster than the biotech industry can come up with new products, and in just ten years’ time we may be at a point when weed killers cease to be effective. A New York Times Magazine article provides stunning details of the explosive growth of Palmer amaranth, some populations of which are resistant to at least six different herbicides. Scientists think this is a new type of resistance. These weeds have developed enzymes that are able to break down weed killers immediately, a process called metabolic resistance. This enables the weeds to resist weedkillers they have never been exposed to.

The writing is on the wall that we’re nearing the end of the “pesticide treadmill,” a term coined decades ago referring to the slow escalation in the strength and quantity of the chemicals needed to control pests. A new chemical is developed to kill weeds, weeds become resistant to that chemical, so a new, more potent chemical is developed, and so on and so on.

The consequences of industrial agriculture and the “pesticide treadmill” are enormous. Resistant weeds have been estimated to cost $43 billion in crop losses each year for corn and soybeans alone. This has a cascading effect that drives up food prices: more expensive corn means more expensive feed which means more expensive meat, and on and on.

There is a striking similarity between the “pesticide treadmill” and the crisis of antibiotic resistance—when bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Antibiotic-resistant illnesses currently kill an estimated 700,000 people a year globally. By 2050, these illnesses are expected to kill 10 million people.

Both pesticides and antibiotics kill the microorganisms that are critical to human health and soil health. Antibiotics profoundly impact the gut microbiome, which is implicated in many health processes including aging. Antibiotic use in infancy, for example, can alter the gut and negatively impact immunity for years. Similarly, pesticides are harmful to the organisms that are critical to maintaining healthy soils, like ground beetles, ground-nesting bees, and worms. Antibiotics and weedkillers drive us away from the healthy balance that brings resilience.

Many current practices make antibiotic resistance much worse. Microplastics, which are ubiquitous in our waterways, are hubs for bacteria and antibiotic waste to attach and comingle; certain strains of bacteria elevated antibiotic resistance by up to 30 times while living on microplastic biofilms. Antibiotics are overused in many settings. The CDC has said that about a third of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary. They are misused and overused on factory farms to speed the growth of animals and protect them from the unsanitary conditions in the feeding lots. The use of weedkillers also increases the prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the soil relative to other soil bacteria.

Antifungal medications are becoming less effective for many of the same reasons—except that there are only three types of antifungal medicines, so options are much more limited. We reported previously on the use of triazoles to protect plants from fungal diseases, noting that these are the same medicines humans use. Fungi in the soil are exposed to triazoles through the agricultural use of the compounds in this fungicide, making the spores resistant. Then when triazoles are used in patients with a fungal infection, the drugs don’t work.

So, what’s the answer? To control weeds, scientists have been urging farmers to engage in practices that are commonplace in regenerative agriculture: rotating crops, hand-pulling weeds, composting, avoiding artificial and synthetic fertilizers, and shifting from feeding lots to well-managed grazing practices. These practices rebuild soil health, restore plant nutrient density, and sequester carbon in the soil. Such a transition obviously requires major changes in how large-scale farming operations are conducted. These practices are labor intensive and account for much of the premium we pay for organic produce. But farmers, in the end, may be forced to “return to their roots,” so to speak, to continue farming as chemical weedkillers become obsolete.

We’ve covered the alternatives to antibiotics for many years (see here and here). There are many natural medicines that have shown their ability to fight off these infections, from essential oils, vitamin D, ozone therapy, and nanosilver. It is maddening to see conventional medicine continue to rely on drugs when there are potent natural options available to fight these deadly illnesses. We’ve also reviewed how to use natural medicines to shore up immunity to resist infections.

All of this supports a view of regenerative agriculture and regenerative health. There are similarities between the overuse of pesticides driving resistant weeds and the overuse of antibiotics driving “superbugs,” or the idea that we can vaccinate our way to health during COVID, staying ahead of the mutating virus with ever more booster shots rather than creating health by building immune resilience. Natural, regenerative health is about creating a healthy environment in the body through proper nutrition, lifestyle, and supplementation, just as regenerative agriculture is about creating a healthy environment for plants to grow and thrive. We abandon these principles at our own peril.

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13 responses to “Killing Bugs, Killing Balance: Weedkillers and Antibiotics”

  1. Abidail says:

    Please stop all the chemicals .

  2. Catherine Couturier says:

    Stop the poisoning, catch up to the science!! Work for the betterment of humanity!!

  3. Danny Jay says:

    We need to stop killing the beneficial bugs that are needed to help our environment…

  4. AL says:

    KILL NOTHING FOR ANY PERSONAL GAIN!

  5. Judith Hodges says:

    Maintaining the practices that respect healthy soil biology is key. Pestilence rarely occurs when practices such as composting, rotation and soil inputs are used. Permaculture teacher Geoff Lawton documents his water management system in a video “Greening the Desert”. Not only does he control the insects and bugs but creates a self-contained system of water management in the middle of the driest desert conditions in Jordan. Brilliant. https://youtu.be/2xcZS7arcgk

  6. Sandra Lee Smith says:

    If a pesticide can kill a bug, it can probably kill you, your pets, & wildlife too. Herbicides kill plants. Neither is good for us, & overuse of antibiotics is killing our immune systems, much of which reside in our guts. Need to get rid of crawling bugs, invest in food grade diatomaceous earth; it kills bugs, cheap, without harming you, or for family, or wildlife otherwise.

  7. Rich Behymer says:

    Retired M.D. In addition to pesticide treadmill, there is an antibiotic treadmill.
    Stronger and stronger drugs. Trying to keep ahead of the “bugs that keep developing resistance. Big Pharma telling people we will always stay ahead.
    NOT TRUE!
    Doctors: First, do no harm. We have gotten away from promoting health and
    heathy lifestyles, lost “fighting” dis/ease and killing bugs! Not promoting good
    nutrition, exercise, and spiritual re-creation. Plus physical health has been separated from mental health — a sorry state of affairs.

  8. Frances Bellinger 360-903-2244 says:

    I am on supplements for immune system, around the heart, thyroid, allergies, memory, digestive, Omega! They are awesome and I don’t need drugs and won’t take drugs at all!

  9. ursela rabe says:

    don’t keep killing the balance of Nature!

  10. Thomas Sheller says:

    I live in Southeastern PA in Chester County. We try to avoid any and all pesticides. My lawn isn’t the greatest looking lawn, but I never fear walking barefoot on it. We plant lots of flowers for the birds and bees to enjoy. But we hardly ever see honeybees visit our yard. When we moved to our newly built home in ’78, we could believe that our lawn was moving because of all of the honeybees visiting our clover. Now we never see much of anything on the clover.

    I believe in natural repellants for insects and grazing animals. We have had a lot of luck with pots of peppermint. It keeps the many groundhogs and rabbits from grazing our flowers. We have three bird feeders, suet, finch seeds and another that has regular bird seed and sunflower seeds. Over the years many of the birds have nested closer to the free food. We hardly ever see flies, mosquitoes in the day, or any deer or wood ticks. Thank you birds.

    But all of the birds that we attracted also caught the attention of a family of hawks. So now we notice that the birds avoid the feeders at certain times. We also noticed that our overpopulation of rabbits and chipmunks has been taken care of. We don’t seem to have as many squirrels running all over the place like we used to. We used to see foxes come through the area, but not as much anymore. I guess they don’t have as much to feed on. Anyway I feel that our avoidance of pesticides and our other actions have put nature in our acre and a quarter back in some sort of balance.

    By our choices of plantings we have moved the herds of deer that visit us at night from our whole yard to our back yard. It could also be the mature evergreen trees that give them a bit of coverage, when they are grazing. I still won’t go barefoot in the back of our back yard. Too many deer Raisonette piles lying around for me.

    Ironically we only had five trees, when we moved here. My wife and I have planted 30 to 50 trees in the intervening years. One of my deck contractors commented that my yard looks more like a wildlife refuge. And maybe it is, but it beats the empty yard that baked in the Summer and froze in the Winter winds for our first decade.

    As for antibiotics, I know exactly how they can screw up a person’s body. About six years ago I stepped on a large splinter. I thought that I had cleaned it out and bandaged it. Two weeks later my left lower leg looked like some purple crimson tree trunk and my toes looked like sausage links. My doctor gave me some antibiotics to get rid of the infection. I was told to monitor the discoloration and make sure that it didn’t move up my leg. It seemed that I could lose that leg if the infection got worse. I fought this infection from February through August. My doctor told me that I seemed to have gotten a MRSA type infection and she wasn’t sure what antibiotic would clear it up.

    On my birthday in May, I spent time in the hospital with a Vancomycin IV drip. My doctor wanted to avoid this, but there was no avoiding using the big guns. Even that didn’t clear it up. So I got some more of the rough antibiotics and in early August it finally cleared up. But it took over a year and some for me to feel like I used to. That year I was introduced to Men’s Depends, and boy did I go through a lot of them. In the future I will avoid using any more antibiotics, if truly possible.

  11. Barb Linck says:

    Shared to Facebook

    As an RN since 1984 and an Organic Farmer / gardener since 1988 I have attempted to educate many over the years.

    Hopefully some are listening and taking to heart what is being said.

  12. Dave Scherer says:

    Very interesting. Good luck trying to make people notice………..

  13. Bob says:

    … “antibiotic resistant bacteria and fungi “… would not the fungi be anti-fungal resistant, not antibiotic resistant? Just wondering.

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