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October 10, 2017

Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States

Filed under: Health News — Tags: , , , — admin @ 2:11 PM

Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use
in the United States: The First Thirteen Years

Learn More @ the Organic Center

This report explores the impact of the adoption of genetically engineered (GE) corn, soybean, and cotton on pesticide use in the United States, drawing principally on data from the United States Department of Agriculture. The most striking finding is that GE crops have been responsible for an increase of 383 million pounds of herbicide use in the U.S. over the first 13 years of commercial use of GE crops (1996- 2008). This dramatic increase in the volume of herbicides applied swamps the decrease in insecticide use attributable to GE corn and cotton, making the overall chemical footprint of today’s GE crops decidedly negative. The report identifies, and discusses in detail, the primary cause of the increase — the emergence of resistant weeds.

The steep rise in the pounds of herbicides applied with respect to most GE crop acres is not news to farmers. Weed control is now widely acknowledged as a serious management problem within GE cropping systems. Farmers and weed scientists across the heartland and cotton belt are now struggling to devise affordable and effective strategies to deal with the resistant weeds emerging in the wake of herbicide-tolerant crops. But skyrocketing herbicide use is news to the public at large, which still harbors the illusion, fed by misleading industry claims and advertising, that biotechnology crops are reducing pesticide use. Such a claim was valid for the first few years of commercial use of GE corn, soybeans, and cotton. But, it is no longer.

An accurate assessment of the performance of GE crops on pesticide use is important for reasons other than correcting the excesses of industry advertising. It is also about the future direction of agriculture, research, and regulatory policy. 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.

Dr. Margaret Mellon Director, Food and Environment Program Union of Concerned Scientists
Mr. Mark Retzloff Board Chair, The Organic Center President, Aurora Organic Dairy

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