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article imageGM crop technology backfires as farmers need more pesticides

By Anne Sewell     Oct 2, 2012 in Environment
A newly-released, peer-reviewed study reveals that the cultivation of genetically engineered crops has increased pesticide usage by hundreds of millions of pounds.
On top of this, Reuters reported today that the pesticide problem will intensify if the new round of GMO crops is approved.
According to Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PhD, who is a senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network, this newly released study “shatters one of industry’s long-standing myths” that GMOs reduce pesticide use.
Dr. Ishii-Eiteman said in a statement:
“Dr. Benbrook’s study shatters one of industry’s long-standing myths. It’s clear from USDA data that genetically engineered crops have driven up overall pesticide use across the country, including 400 million more pounds of pesticides. And the increase in pesticide use is expected to continue unless we change the course of our food and farming system.”
“The study reminds us that the pesticide treadmill is in full-force. At least two-dozen types of weeds are now resistant to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. As these ‘superweeds’ become increasingly resistant to glyphosate, farmers use greater quantities of the product, and eventually resort to older, even more dangerous pesticides. As the Benbrook study notes, farmers will be on the hook for these less effective, increasingly hazardous and expensive products.”
“The next cycle of the treadmill is especially frightening. 2,4-D-resistant corn is the first in a new flood of industry products currently under consideration by USDA. If the agency approves it and other 2,4-D crops, use of this dangerous pesticide in corn is expect to increase by 30-fold over the next seven years, putting farms, farmers and rural communities in harm’s way. The chemical has been linked to birth defects and cancer, and children are especially susceptible to its effects.”
“Monsanto and DuPont stand to benefit the most from the continued use of glyphosate, the next round of herbicide-based GE crops and expected surge in 2,4-D sales. So it should be no surprise that the two largest opponents of California’s ‘Right to Know’ initiative are Monsanto and DuPont, spending over $10 million to defeat the initiative. These corporations and the rest of the ‘Big 6’ pesticide and genetically engineered seed firms are attempting to obscure the science and keep consumers in the dark, as they market the next wave of GE crops that drive up herbicide use.”
The peer-reviewed study was released by Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.
It states that genetically engineered crops have led to an increase in overall pesticide use, by 404 million pounds from the time they were introduced in 1996 through 2011. Of that total, herbicide use has increased over the 16-year period by 527 million pounds, while insecticide use decreased by 123 million pounds.
Initially the herbicide-tolerant crops were a big hit with farmers, who found that it was easy to control weed populations, without damaging their crops. "Roundup Ready" crops are engineered through transgenic modification to tolerate Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Kill the weeds, save the crop was the order of the day.
However, in recent years, more than two dozen weed species have become resistant to Roundup's main ingredient, glyphosate. Because of this, farmers need to use increasing amounts of both weed-killing chemicals and glyphosate in an effort to control the so-called "superweeds." The pesticides are also producing hard-to-kill insects, or "superbugs."
With the introduction of "Bt" corn and cotton crops engineered to be toxic to certain insects, the rise of insects resistant to the crop toxin is occurring according to Benbrook. While insecticide use did drop initially, 28% from 1996 to 2011, usage is now on the rise.
"The relatively recent emergence and spread of insect populations resistant to the Bt toxins expressed in Bt corn and cotton has started to increase insecticide use, and will continue to do so," he said.
Benbrooks says, "Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent."
"Things are getting worse, fast," Benbrook told Reuters in an interview.
"In order to deal with rapidly spreading resistant weeds, farmers are being forced to expand use of older, higher-risk herbicides. To stop corn and cotton insects from developing resistance to Bt, farmers planting Bt crops are being asked to spray the insecticides that Bt corn and cotton were designed to displace."
As yet, Monsanto officials have no immediate comment. Monsanto spokesman, Thomas Helschjer says, "We're looking at this. Our experts haven't been able to access the supporting data as yet."
As Californians get ready to vote on Proposition 37 in the upcoming elections, to enforce labeling of genetically engineered food products, this pesticide problem increases the need for such labeling. It also explains why the pesticide companies are pushing millions into trying to defeat Proposition 37.
Gary Ruskin, campaign manager of Yes on 37 said, “This study raises serious questions about whether we want to drown our crops in pesticides and feed them to our children.”
“As we see from the data, GMOs are a fantastic boon for the pesticide industry. That’s why the world’s largest pesticide companies have spent nearly $20 million to defeat Proposition 37 and our right to know what’s in our food.”
Other reading of interest: Pesticide Action Network statement and Summary of existing research on GMOs.
Peer-reviewed study by Chuck Benbrook, PhD, research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.
For more information on Prop. 37, visit
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