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Excerpt: "The pesticide industry's dirty little secret: GE seeds are no green solution to the world's food needs, but are rather the growth engine of the world's biggest pesticide companies."

Monsanto pesticide to be sprayed on crops. (photo: Waking Times)
Monsanto pesticide to be sprayed on crops. (photo: Waking Times)


Genetically Modified Food Industry's Dirty Little Secret

By Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Pesticide Action Network

09 October 12

 

s a scientist at Pesticide Action Network, I am frequently asked these days to explain what genetically engineered (GE) crops have to do with pesticides. When I answer that GE crops both contain and drive up pesticide use, I am often met with earnest incredulity. We seem to need to believe that GE technology is the best thing since sliced bread.

On a radio program just last week, a caller voiced his genuine hopes to me that GE crops would provide a green solution to the woes of the world since he'd heard that these crops increase yield, cure blindness and reduce pesticide use. I was sorry to have to disappoint him on all counts, since GE crops have consistently failed to improve yield, have done nothing to date for Vitamin A deficiency-related blindness and have driven increases in pesticide use since their introduction some sixteen years ago.

On this last point, a new study on GE crops out last week added yet more weight to the body of evidence contradicting the GE crop industry's long-standing myth. Published Friday in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe, the Washington State University (WSU) study offers a simple but devastating finding: GE seeds dramatically increase pesticide use, and that use will grow unless we change the course of our food and farming system.

So here it is, the pesticide industry's dirty little secret: GE seeds are no green solution to the world's food needs, but are rather the growth engine of the world's biggest pesticide companies. In point of fact, the latest wave of GE crops is expected to drive a 25-fold increase in the use of one particularly nasty pesticide (2,4-D) in corn over the next seven years.

Analyzing USDA data, the study—authored by WSU research professor Charles Benbrook, a former National Academy of Sciences' executive director—shows that GE crops have driven up overall pesticide use across the country, with 400 million more pounds applied from 1996 to 2011. Just last year, GE crops used 20 percent more pesticides on average than non-GE crops. The adoption of herbicide-resistant crop technology has been the primary driver, contributing to a 527 million pound increase in herbicide use during the same period. And the increase in pesticide use is expected to continue, if USDA approves the next wave of GE herbicide-resistant crops.

Back to the future: new GE seeds and old pesticides

These new data remind us that - notwithstanding the marketing tactics of Monsanto, DuPont and Dow - our farmers and agroecosystems remain tethered to the pesticide treadmill in ways that we all pay for in one way or another.

At least two-dozen types of weeds are now resistant to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. Farmers throughout the southeast and, increasingly, the Midwest, are abandoning entire fields to these ‘superweeds.' In California, the most agriculturally productive and diverse state in the nation, weeds have developed resistance to both glyphosate and paraquat, infesting up to an estimated million acres, with the area and type of resistant weeds continuing to rise. As weeds become increasingly resistant to RoundUp, farmers use greater quantities of the product and eventually resort to older, even more dangerous pesticides. And as the Benbrook study notes, farmers are on the hook for these less effective, increasingly hazardous and expensive products.

The next cycle of the treadmill is especially frightening. 2,4-D-resistant corn is the first in a new flood of industry products currently under consideration by USDA. If the agency approves it and other 2,4-D crops, use of this hazardous pesticide in corn is expect to surge 25-fold over the next seven years, putting farms, farmers and rural communities in harm's way. The chemical has been linked to birth defects, neurological damage and cancer, and children are especially susceptible to its effects. For these reasons, 70 medical doctors and health professionals joined Pesticide Action Network this summer in urging EPA to reject Dow AgroScience's application for new uses of 2,4-D.

What now?

Monsanto, Dow and other major pesticide companies stand to benefit the most from the continued use of glyphosate and surge in 2,4-D and other chemical sales that will accompany the next round of herbicide-based GE crops. So it should come as no surprise that the largest opponents of California's 'Right to Know' ballot initiative to label GE foods are the pesticide companies, together spending nearly $20 million to blanket the airwaves with false and misleading ads about the initiative. I am heartened, however, by recent polls showing Californians resolute in their demand that GE food be labeled.

Of even greater importance, perhaps, is the fact that people are asking serious questions about this technology, and its place in our food and farming systems. Finally we are having a genuine public conversation about genetic engineering, pesticides, our health, our rights and who should control what we eat and how we grow our food: corporations or communities. True, we should have had this conversation sixteen years ago, before the first GE seeds were ushered to market by our public agencies, without adequate safety or efficacy testing. But here and now is still a very good place to start.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman is a senior scientist and director of the Sustainable Food Systems Program at PAN. Before joining PAN in 1996, Marcia worked in Asia and Africa for 14 years. She developed farmer field schools in ecological pest management, sustainable agriculture and community-based rural development projects in Southeast Asia, and women's health, literacy and resource conservation projects on the Thai-Cambodian and Somali-Ethiopian borders. Marcia holds a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University and a B.A. in Women's Studies from Yale University. She has written extensively on the ecological, social and political dimensions of food and agriculture and was a lead author of the UN-sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell.

 

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+28 # Adoregon 2012-10-09 06:59
Duh!!

Monsanto is nothing more than a "dealer." As such, its business model is to get its users hooked on all of its products while forcing its users to buy only from them.

This is SOP (standard operating practice)for all powerful dealers.

So, the government will allow 2,4-D to flood the environment while continuing to prohibit cannabis. Clearly the government has your health and safety foremost in its thinking.
Uh-huh.
 
 
+19 # WolfTotem 2012-10-09 07:57
Quoting Adoregon:
Monsanto is nothing more than a "dealer." As such, its business model is to get its users hooked on all of its products while forcing its users to buy only from them.


You underestimate Monsanto - it makes all drug and arms cartels look small and all terror organizations, negligible quantities. Its aim: to get a stranglehold on world food production. Once you have that, what can you not do?

The pipe dream of pulp fiction's mad scientist plotting world domination, come true.
 
 
0 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-10 18:59
we need to develop a 2,4-D-resistant cannabis!
 
 
+22 # Buddha 2012-10-09 07:14
How about hiring more workers to pull weeds instead of bombarding the environment with chemicals? Yeah, crazy idea, huh?
 
 
+6 # bluesapphire48 2012-10-09 09:16
Costs too much. Besides, it involves hiring those pesky workers, especially Mexicans. Can't have that!
 
 
0 # Walhalla 2012-10-09 13:52
It worked very well in my vegetable and flower gardens. Not a "crazy" idea at all.
 
 
+1 # CarolynScarr 2012-10-09 20:39
Quoting Buddha:
How about hiring more workers to pull weeds instead of bombarding the environment with chemicals? Yeah, crazy idea, huh?

I heard of a dairy farmer in Clear Lake California who grazed his cattle in the neighboring walnut orchards. Helped with the weeds and fertilized the trees -- win, win. Clear Lake walnuts are not sprayed because so far the bugs other walnut farmer spray for don't live there.
 
 
+8 # Barkingcarpet 2012-10-09 08:00
Secret to who? Not secret to anyone who is more interested in substance than appearances.
Monsanto IS the antichrist and an evil thug. On the other hand, we are the apathetic consumers who are more interested in cheap disposable products, than in being involved and saving this planet from ourselves.
Oops.........
 
 
+9 # Barbara K 2012-10-09 08:14
The fields can even be cultivated to get rid of weeds, no harm to the environment then. Guess they feel killing us with poison is better than feeding us with good food.
 
 
+8 # mauimina 2012-10-09 09:22
Feed the World yeah right....what has been genetically modified is hybrid corn bred to be high yielding and most important "high in starch". The heirloom varieties we know from Mexico are high in protein. Big difference when these high starch hybrids are creating big health problems. Its a "race to the starch" feeding Americas addiction to SUGAR.
 
 
+6 # Bob P 2012-10-09 10:36
We have two problems:
The first is technical. Imbedding pesticides in the chemical makeup of a food product has turned out to be a big mistake. But it is very profitable for the people responsible for the mistake so we will continue to live with it until the profit bubble bursts. In the meantime we hurt while the rich get richer. So what's new?
the second problem is political. One way to pop the profit bubble would be government regulation. This has two requirements. Legislators need to pass laws making this profitable situation illegal. Electing more republican legislators will surely not make that happen. Secondly, regulatory agencies need to continue to be strengthened after the destructive policies of the last Repuglycan administration. Will the election now help or hinder??
Finally, do we really want to solve this problem? How much Monsanto stock does your pension or 401k fund hold?
 
 
+6 # gmurnane 2012-10-09 11:25
GE crops have the potential to take local strains, and improve on them, adding drought resistance, natural pest resistance, and high yield traits, giving something that is both locally suited, and highly productive. Instead, because of the protection of individual genes under patent law, we see crops made that are all exactly identical, and don't have any of the local properties that benefit plants, or any of the drought and pest resistance that would make them more sustainable crops.

GE is a technology, and right now, patent law is making that technology poorly used, with essentially no competition, and thus no real innovation. Labeling GE crops won't help nearly as much as properly using the technology would, and ignoring the root of the problem in this case is dangerous, for environmental, health, and economic reasons.
 
 
+4 # ericlipps 2012-10-09 14:52
Quoting gmurnane:
GE crops have the potential to take local strains, and improve on them, adding drought resistance, natural pest resistance, and high yield traits, giving something that is both locally suited, and highly productive. Instead, because of the protection of individual genes under patent law, we see crops made that are all exactly identical, and don't have any of the local properties that benefit plants, or any of the drought and pest resistance that would make them more sustainable crops.

GE is a technology, and right now, patent law is making that technology poorly used, with essentially no competition, and thus no real innovation. Labeling GE crops won't help nearly as much as properly using the technology would, and ignoring the root of the problem in this case is dangerous, for environmental, health, and economic reasons.


Right--but brace yourself for brickbats, gmurnane. Too many people think genetic engineering is inherently evil and can only do harm, and they don't want to hear anything different.

Monsanto and its ilk are discrediting a perfectly good technology by using it in corrupt ways, to increase sales of their other products such as pesticides. The same has been done with antibiotics, which have saved millions of lives but whose misuse has begun to breed new super-bacteria almost impossible to fight because of antibiotic resistance.
 
 
-1 # theoldman 2012-10-09 18:09
1) Golden Rice has been legally blocked from doing anything to date, due to the actions from the likes of Greenpeace.

2) You claim GM corn's yields ony provided subpar yield increases of far less than 1%. With over 70% of all the corn produced in the United States now GM, that statement does not square with the data:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/08/16/a-brief-history-of-u-s-corn-in-one-chart/

YOu can clearly see, that the trend in yield continues to increase linearly (with yearly deviations due to good years and droughts), from 1955 , through the point of GM introduction right up to the present.
 
 
+5 # Holmes 2012-10-09 19:15
Yet the claim is that vitamin A can be supplied by green vegetables. Have a walk about the markets for the poor in Calcutta and observe what is on sale, and what is being eaten on the roadside stands. I would suggest that green vegetables etc is a very low proportion of the diet, plus they are more expensive re energy intake. When you are poor you focus on energy first not quality.

I have extreme difficulties when groups impose their world views on others using what appears to be fraudulent data. We are having enough problems with religion.
 
 
0 # theoldman 2012-10-09 18:12
Another point to make is wouldn't the farmers themselves noticed little increase in yield (and therefore revenue) plus the increased cost and use of inputs? And, having noticed that, wouldn't they have quickly switched back to the older strains of corn/etc ? Or, are you saying farmers are stupid ?
 
 
+5 # Holmes 2012-10-09 19:19
Good point. I have seem many claims for improved fertilizers (worm juice, chelated TE's etc) /growth stimulants etc come and go. Farmers soon work out what is best.

Problem with some of the GMO stuff is that the companies prevent 3ed parties from properly testing and comparing such varieties with other. This is the control of information.
 
 
+2 # Eliza D 2012-10-10 05:46
Thank you, thank you for giving those of us fighting Monsanto more ammunition! An over 5 million pound increase in pesticides? Unacceptable! Hopefully, this trend of adding more and more pesticides will start to be reversed after Prop 37 is passed.
 

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