A New Report Reveals that GM Seeds Encourage Pesticides Use, Contribute to Growth of Superweeds

A new report out today, Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years [pdf] authored by Dr. Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center, reveals that the use of genetically modified (GM) corn, soy and cotton crops has increased the amount of pesticides used in the past 13 years by 318 million pounds.

This information comes to light as the industry struggles to position itself as providing environmental benefit through use of bt technology — insecticide producing seeds — savings from which are diminished in light of a six times greater herbicide usage.

Farmers have become increasingly critical of both GM seed as it goes up in price, and herbicides like Roundup, also known as glyphosate, as ‘superweeds‘ become prevalent in treated fields. The growth of pigweed, which can quickly reach widths of 6 inches at the stalk, and other invasive, glyphosate-resistant species increases farmers reliance on more high-risk herbicides, including 2,4-D, dicamba and paraquat, and has resulted in a return to hand harvesting and even abandoning of fields.

Dr. Benbrook used the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service data and publicly available Monsanto information to ascertain these findings. The report states that it became increasingly difficult to get such information from the USDA as it ceased collecting thorough data on pesticide usage in the US in recent years. Furthermore, the USDA has never conducted research on the relationship between GM crops and increased pesticide use, resulting in a lack of in-depth information to inform regulators. (I wrote about the need for more such research here, where Dr. Benbrook also chimed in.)

The report challenges researchers and regulators to consider the following:

Herbicides and insecticides are potent environmental toxins. Where GE crops cannot deliver meaningful reductions in reliance on pesticides, policy makers need to look elsewhere. In addition to toxic pollution, agriculture faces the twin challenges of climate change and burgeoning world populations. The biotechnology industry’s current advertising campaigns promise to solve those problems, just as the industry once promised to reduce the chemical footprint of agriculture. Before we embrace GE crops as solution to these new challenges, we need a sober, data-driven appraisal of its track record on earlier pledges.

Thank you for being a loyal reader.

We rely on you. Become a member today to read unlimited stories.

With glyphosate producer Monsanto encouraging farmers to diversify their herbicide use to control superweeds, this research shows that we could be at a turning point for Roundup Ready technology. As farmers realize the cost effectiveness of conventional seeds which deliver similar yields and allow seeds to be saved for reuse in future seasons, GM crops could prove a technological experiment gone wrong as we move toward creating a more durable and diverse food system.

Get the latest. Delivered every week.

We rely on you. Become a member today to read unlimited stories.

Avatar

Paula Crossfield is a founder and the Editor-at-large of Civil Eats. She is also a co-founder of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Her reporting has been featured in The Nation, Gastronomica, Index Magazine, The New York Times and more, and she has been a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio. An avid cook and gardener, she currently lives in Oakland. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More from

Agroecology

Featured

Popular

The Seneca Nation Is Building Food Sovereignty, One Bison at a Time

On November 8, 2020, Gakwi:yo:h Farms relocated their wild bison herd to Ohi:yo' at the Sunfish flats in Allegany, a sprawling 300-acre plot of land where the bison may roam freely. (Photo courtesy of Seneca Media & Communications Center)

Biden’s Climate Plan Relies on Farmers Who Are Often Climate Skeptics

President-elect Joe Biden (R) and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (L) look on as Tom Vilsack, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Department of Agriculture, delivers remarks at the Queen Theater December 11, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Why Aren’t USDA Conservation Programs Paying Farmers More to Improve Their Soil?

Vue Her, a Hmong farmer outside Fresno, California. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung

This App Aims to Help SNAP Users Make the Most of Their Benefits

shopping for groceries online with the forage app