Global environmental campaigning group Greenpeace is urging the European Union not to authorise herbicide-tolerant genetically engineered (HTGE) crops, stating such crops lead to herbicide-resistant super-weeds.
Greenpeace says European agriculture would be irretrievably damaged if the European Commission were to go down the route followed by the US and authorise the cultivation of HTGE crops. Greenpeace has backed up its claims quoting the experiences of two US farmers who have had first-hand experience of growing HTGE crops.Their concerns stem from the first ever forecast of how Europe would be affected by increased herbicide usage linked to HTGE crops. The European Commission is currently considering authorising cultivation of 19 HTGE crops by early 2013. In all, the European Commission has under consideration 26 genetically engineered crops for approved use in the EU. Of these, 19 are genetically engineered crops designed to be tolerant to herbicides.
Greenpeace commissioned agricultural economist Dr. Charles Benbrook to produce their report entitled “Glyphosate tolerant crops in the EU”, which uses data based on the use of HTGE crops in US agriculture. Dr. Charles Benbrook is a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University. As earlier reported in Digital Journal, he recently published the first ever peer-reviewed, published estimate of the impact of HTGE crops on pesticide use, based on extensive analysis of publicly available data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service.
The new report forecasts an increase in the use of the weed-killer glyphosate, often sold as the Monsanto branded name Round-up, of up to 15 times over a 14 year period (2012-2025) for HTGE corn, soy and sugar beet in the EU.
According to Dr. Benbrook, "Farmers in the US are already struggling, as they try to spray their way out of the corner they’re backed into. The reliance on herbicide-tolerant crops in the US has triggered the emergence and rapid spread of nearly two dozen glyphosate-resistant weeds, driving up farm production costs, as well as the volume and ecotoxicity of herbicides needed to prevent major yield loss."
Greenpeace has spoken to farmers in the United Sates and Argentina. Their experiences with herbicide tolerant crop monocultures and how HTGE crop use have affected agricultural economics and the environment are explored in the short documentary ‘Growing Doubt’ which has been released on Youtube.
Two US farmers featured in the film, Wendel Lutz and Wes Shoemyer, have travelled to Europe to warn EU farmers against HTGE crop use based on their own experiences.
“So far, the EU has stood very firm. It still has a chance to retain its independence, to retain its integrity,” said Wes Shoemyer. “It needs to stand up for farmers now while it has the opportunity; it needs to think about the consequences that will follow. It can be assured that once it allows corporate domination, companies like Monsanto will charge basically what the market will bear.”
Dr. Benbrook’s forecast is pessimistic on the prospects for European agriculture if the EU authorises farmers to use HTGE technology. Comparing glyphosate use in maize, the most important and widely grown crop in Europe and taking the US as an example, Benbrook forecasts weed-killer use would increase by over 1,000% by year 2025 compared with current use and that total herbicide use would double.
The Greenpeace report was launched in Warsaw, Poland yesterday, as the pre-cursor to an 18 day campaigning tour led by Greenpeace around Europe. Greenpeace and the US farmers hope to meet with farmers’ groups, local communities and national politicians at each tour stop to discuss their growing concerns over the HTGE threat.
“We’ve already seen what happened to the farming community in Argentina and the US, and Dr. Benbrook’s report paints a vivid picture of what will happen here should these crops be authorised. Surely the European Commission will heed these warnings, reject applications for growing HTGE crops in Europe and substantially strengthen the risk assessment procedure for GE crops,” said Lasse Bruun, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner at Greenpeace International.
US agrichemical and biotech giant Monsanto introduced the weed-killer glyphosate to the market in the 1970s under the Roundup trademark, reports Agence France Presse. Glyphosate is now out of patent and has become the most commonly used herbicide in the US and elsewhere. While the manufacturers of glyphosate say it has relatively low toxicity compared with other herbicides, there remain concerns about its long term impact on the environment.