Genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton have increased use of weed-killing herbicides by 383 million pounds in the U.S. from 1996 to 2008, according to a new Organic Center report titled “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years.”
The report was released today by The Organic Center, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Food Safety. 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.
Despite the fact limited acreage of Roundup Ready crops are grown in California, many weeds species in the State are already resistant to glyphosate. Roundup has been and remains an important herbicide for weed management in orchards and vineyards, along ditches and rights of way, and in many places with relatively high population density. If Roundup losses its effectiveness, more toxic and damaging herbicides will be sprayed more frequently and widely.
“This increasing reliance on multiple pesticides and toxins increases the risk of resistance in key target pests, says Dr. Charles Benbrook, the report author and chief scientist of The Organic Center. “In fact, today's GE seeds place in jeopardy, because of resistance, three of the most important, reduced risk classes of pesticides used on most California fruit and vegetable farms – Bt liquid sprays, and the nicotinyl insecticides and strobilurin fungicides now used in GE seed treatments.”
Based upon data from the USDA, Benbrook presents evidence linking the increase in pesticide use on GE, "herbicide-tolerant" crops to the emergence and spread of herbicide-resistant weeds. This report comes at a time when farmers are facing drastically rising biotech seed prices and increasingly resistant weeds.
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 says. 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” 2 soybean seed, to be introduced on a widespread basis next year, will cost 42% more than the original RR seeds they are displacing.
“Thanks to biotechnology, farmers have adopted no- and reduced-tillage systems which utilize herbicidal weed control rather than plowing,” counters Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, Executive Vice President, Food and Agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “This is delivering important benefits in the form of improved soil health and water retention, reduced runoff, fuel conservation, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and more efficient carbon storage in the soil.
“Furthermore, biotech crop varieties have dramatically reduced farmers' reliance on pesticide applications. Since 1997, the use of pesticides on global biotech crop acreage has been reduced by 790 million pounds, an 8.8% reduction,” she says.
“Dr. Benbrook's work shows that the overall chemical footprint of today's engineered crops is massive and growing,” says 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," adds 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."
More is at www.organic-center.org.