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

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.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

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.

Thank you for being a loyal reader.

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

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.

More from

Agroecology

Featured

Restaurants Create a Mound of Plastic Waste. Some Are Working to Fix That.

A small but growing number of restaurants are moving away from single-use plastic take-out containers, which usually end up in the trash because they can’t be recycled. 

Popular

Mayor Eric Adams Scrapped NYC’s Compost Project. Here’s What Will Be Lost.

Hands holding compost in new york city. (Photo credit: Angelica Ang)

Nik Sharma Offers His Top Tips for Home Cooks to Fight Recipe Fatigue

Nik Sharma baking at left, and tossing a chickpea dish at right. (Photo credit: Nik Sharma)

Far From Home, the Curry Leaf Tree Thrives

Zee Lilani of Kula Nursery stands among her curry leaf tree starts in Oakland, California. (Photo credit: Melati Citrawireja)

A Guide to Climate-Conscious Grocery Shopping