Genetically Engineered Crops Caused Surge in Pesticide Use – Report

Genetically engineered (GE) corn, soybeans and cotton have increased use of weed-killing herbicides–a type of pesticide–by 383 million pounds in the U.S. from 1996 to 2008, according to a new report.

In addition, GE corn and cotton have reduced insecticide use by 64
million pounds, resulting in an overall increase of 318 million pounds
of pesticides over the first 13 years of commercial use.

The report was released by nonprofits The Organic Center (TOC), the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS).

Based upon data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), report author Dr. Charles Benbrook presents evidence linking the increase in pesticide use on GE, “herbicide-tolerant” (HT) crops to the emergence and spread of herbicide-resistant weeds.

This report comes at a time when criticism of GE crops is increasing, in part, because of rising biotech seed prices and increasingly resistant weeds.

The agricultural biotechnology industry claims that the much higher costs of GE seeds are justified by multiple benefits to farmers, including decreased spending on pesticides.

The price of GE seeds has risen precipitously in recent years, and the need to make additional herbicide applications in an effort to keep up with resistant weeds is also increasing cash production costs, the report states. 

As an example, corn farmers planting “SmartStax” hybrids in 2010 will spend around $124 per acre for seed, almost three times the cost of conventional corn seed. In addition, new-generation “Roundup Ready” (RR) 2 soybean seed, to be introduced on a widespread basis next year, will cost 42% more than the original RR seeds they are displacing.

“The drastic increase in pesticide use with genetically engineered crops is due primarily to the rapid emergence of weeds resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide,” said Benbrook, who is also chief scientist of The Organic Center. “With glyphosate-resistant weeds now infesting millions of acres, farmers face rising costs coupled with sometimes major yield losses, and the environmental impact of weed management systems will surely rise.”

The new report refutes industry’s assertions that its crops have reduced pesticide use. Last April, UCS released a report that found engineered crops have largely failed to increase crop yields, despite the industry’s consistent claims to the contrary.

“Dr. Benbrook’s work shows that the overall chemical footprint of today’s engineered crops is massive and growing,” said Dr. Margaret Mellon, food and environment program director for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “That growth in pesticide use has important implications for farmers’ bottom lines, public health and the health of the environment.”

”This report confirms what we’ve been saying for years,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety. “The most common type of genetically engineered crops promotes increased use of pesticides, an epidemic of resistant weeds, and more chemical residues in our foods. This may be profitable for the biotech/pesticide companies, but it’s bad news for farmers, human health and the environment.”

Industry claims that GE crops are benefitting the environment ignore the impacts of the 300+ million additional pounds of pesticides required over the period covered by this study, as well as growing reliance by farmers on high-risk herbicides including 2,4-D and paraquat.

In addition to the environmental harm, a report released earlier this year by TOC demonstrated that exposure to pesticides is linked to increased risk of reproductive abnormalities, birth defects and neurological problems.

“Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years”  is available at the link below.

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