GM crop technology backfires

2012-10-02 08:24

Washington - US farmers are using more hazardous pesticides to fight weeds and insects due largely to heavy adoption of genetically modified crop technologies that are sparking a rise of "superweeds" and hard-to-kill insects, according to a newly released study.

Genetically engineered crops have led to an increase in overall pesticide use, by 183 million kilograms from the time they were introduced in 1996 through 2011, according to the report by Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Centre for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.

Of that total, herbicide use increased over the 16-year period by 239 million kilograms while insecticide use decreased by 55 million kilograms.

Benbrook's paper - published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe over the weekend and announced on Monday - undermines the value of both herbicide-tolerant crops and insect-protected crops, which were aimed at making it easier for farmers to kill weeds in their fields and protect crops from harmful pests, said Benbrook.

Herbicide-tolerant crops were the first genetically modified crops introduced to world, rolled out by Monsanto in 1996, first in "Roundup Ready" soybeans and then in corn, cotton and other crops. Roundup Ready crops are engineered through transgenic modification to tolerate dousings of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.


The crops were a hit with farmers who found they could easily kill weed populations without damaging their crops. But in recent years, more than two dozen weed species have become resistant to Roundup's chief ingredient glyphosate, causing farmers to use increasing amounts both of glyphosate and other weed killing chemicals to try to control the so-called "superweeds".

"Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25%," Benbrook said.

Monsanto officials had no immediate comment.

"We're looking at this. Our experts haven't been able to access the supporting data as yet," said Monsanto spokesperson Thomas Helscher.

Benbrook said the annual increase in the herbicides required to deal with tougher-to-control weeds on cropland planted to genetically modified crops has grown from 680 000kg in 1999 to about 40 million kilograms in 2011.

Similarly, the introduction of "Bt" corn and cotton crops engineered to be toxic to certain insects is triggering the rise of insects resistant to the crop toxin, according to Benbrook.

Insecticide use did drop substantially - 28% from 1996 to 2011 - but is now on the rise, he said.


"The relatively recent emergence and spread of insect populations resistant to the Bt toxins expressed in Bt corn and cotton has started to increase insecticide use, and will continue to do so," he said.

Herbicide-tolerant and Bt-transgenic crops now dominate US agriculture, accounting for about one in every 2ha of harvested cropland, and around 95% of soybean and cotton hectares, and over 85% of corn hectares.

"Things are getting worse, fast," said Benbrook in an interview. "In order to deal with rapidly spreading resistant weeds, farmers are being forced to expand use of older, higher-risk herbicides. To stop corn and cotton insects from developing resistance to Bt, farmers planting Bt crops are being asked to spray the insecticides that Bt corn and cotton were designed to displace."

  • tracy.theron.33 - 2012-10-02 09:23

    Are they seriously surprised that this has happened? Anyone with half a brain could have seen this coming from a mile away. You don't screw with mother nature. Purely from an evolution point of view one could logically draw the conclusion that weeds and insects would become resistant.

      denis.dendrinos - 2012-10-02 09:33

      not only that - but they have an exact same problem in medicine. Doctors were super impressed with anti-biotics. They were supposed to be the answer to all bacteria-related problems. And lo and behold, there did appear on the 8th day super bugs. Nothing learnt right?

      mike.clery - 2012-10-02 09:41

      So what do you suggest - that we don't use any form of pesticides, and antibiotics?

      arthur.hugh - 2012-10-02 10:32

      Mike - I stopped taking antibiotics about 10 years ago - I used to get tonsillitis two or three times a year. Having stopped antibiotics my immune system learned how to fight it on it's own, and in the 10 years I've not had it again. For more deadly diseases where the body really needs help I would take antibiotics - but people taking it for colds and flu are just weakening their immune system. GMO: No conclusive long term studies on the effects on humans ingesting it have been done. Recent tests on rats eating GMO corn have caused them to have organ failure. If you buy Monsanto GMO seeds you have to buy them every year so you are enslaved financially by them (GMO seeds dont germinate) With GMO seeds you still need to use pesticides like Round Up. A european farmer recently won a case after getting ill from Round Up. Often GMO seeds fail and bankrupt smaller farmers. Read up on the Cotton farmers in India and what happened to them. Read up on the history of Monsanto (and Agent Orange used in Vietnam) and tell me you're happy to trust them with our food. GMO seeds are threatening heirloom (natural) seeds. The likes of Monsanto get in bed with Governments and have legislature passed that prohibits heirloom seed banks. ... and much more, just google it.

      LanfearM - 2012-10-02 10:42

      @ denis.dendrinos - pure and simple proof of evolution at work, i.e. the diseases evolved to adapt to the antibiotics. Same with the insects and pesticide. However, antibiotics still work for many diseases. If not for antibiotics, I would have died when I was 12. Pesticides, hmm, not a fan at all and think we can use natural pesticides. You for instance get certain plants and plant-oils that can be used, even on commercial farming scale, to keep the critters away. It may be more work-intesive than just spraying a crop but definitely better on the whole in the long run. Even in our house we don't keep any kind of poison or pesticide, not even Doom! hehe

  • wesley.bischoff - 2012-10-02 10:10

    That doesn't make sense. GM crops are engineered to that they are more resistant to disease and pests. So why would it fail now, requiring more pesticides etc... I'm asking, coz it doesn't make sense...

      arthur.hugh - 2012-10-02 10:36

      Because you have to work WITH nature instead of AGAINST it, just like a virus keeps mutating, so nature will find a way around GMO by creating super resistant weeds etc. Look up Permaculture farming and hydroculture - they are self sufficient systems that work with nature instead of against it.

      craig.m.fulton - 2012-10-02 11:34

      Wesley, there has been an increase primarily in the use of herbicides, because of herbicide resistance genes incorporated into the crops. This makes management of the crops easier for the farmer. But the high selection pressure eventually means the weeds overcome these chemical sprays.This aspect of GMO crops I do not agree with, because it creates dependence on chemical inputs. The pest resistant crops have had genes incorporated that allow the crop to produce compounds that stop insect feeding and digestion (their digestion is very different from our own). Example, Bt maize has genes incorporated from bacteria that create a protein that stops insect feeding, this Bt compound is actually used by organic farmers because it is derived from a natural source. This technology reduces the need for chemical sprays since the crop itself basically kills the insect. But insects can develop resistance over time, this can be managed by planting portions of the crop to susceptible varieties of crops which can be eaten. This is actually the suggested practice, but is not normally followed because of the attractiveness of the immediate high yields.This explains the 28% drop in pesticide use which is now being followed by an increase as farmers now need to manage the resistant pests with chemicals.

      wesley.bischoff - 2012-10-02 12:02

      That makes sense guys :) thanks for clearing it up. I also remember going to a citrus farm in Stellenbosch. They showed us how they are breeding fruit flies so that the males are sterile, so that when released, and they mate, the females will lay unfertilized eggs. Which would result in a lower population of the destructive fruit fly. But on the other hand, thanks to GM crops, close to a billion lives have been saved. Norman Borlaug is said to have saved a billion lives with his work on GM crops. Trial and error, things can't be perfect, all the time.

      wesley.bischoff - 2012-10-02 12:09

      arthur.hugh - 2012-10-02 12:43

      Wes - saved Billions of lives? How where what when? Total bunk publicist stuff from Monsanto no doubt. Monsanto is notable for its involvement in high profile lawsuits, as both plaintiff and defendant. It has been involved in a number of class action suits, where fines and damages have run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, usually over health issues related to its products. In 2003 Monsanto filed patent applications with claims on breeding techniques for pigs. Monsanto indicates that it has sued 145 individual U.S. farmers for patent infringement and/or breach of contract in connection with its genetically engineered seed. The usual claim involves violation of a technology agreement that prohibits farmers from saving seed from one season's crop to plant the next, a common farming practice. Just read up on their history... it goes on and on with corruption.

      craig.m.fulton - 2012-10-02 15:11

      @Hugh many edible food crops are unrecognisable compared to their wild forms. These plants would never have existed as they do without human manipulation, selection and breeding - is that not genetic modification? Can you really condemn a technological advancement based upon the unscrupulous activities of a company? The company and the technology are two separate things.

      arthur.hugh - 2012-10-04 10:11

      Breeding two plants naturally is indeed completely different to adding fish genes and pesticide chemicals into the seed. Can you mate a Tomato with a Fish naturally? No. Also, the company should definitely be a huge consideration - especially when they use tactics like falsify reports so the FDA can pass their products, and use intimidation tactics to silence people who speak out. Would you want an unscrupulous multinational corporate to have total domination on the worlds food supply? If you're really fine with that you're fast a sleep buddy.

  • arthur.hugh - 2012-10-02 10:24

    HAH! This flies in the face of every nitwit who has every argued against me when I have told them about Monsanto and the dangers of GMO. Finally they can swallow their own tongues.

  • Tony Lapson - 2012-10-02 12:42

    I know this is about crops and grain, but you should see the chemicals that come through our warehouse destined to be put into chicken pens for big chicken farms to reduce bacteria, fungi and odors. STALOSAN F: HAZARDOUS MATERIALS... reads the documentation. NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION... MAY CAUSE CANCER... NO CONTACT WITH SKIN... Yet the birds are safe to walk, sit, live in the product because they will be slaughtered within a couple of months? Hmmm...

      arthur.hugh - 2012-10-02 12:47

      Yup there's a lot of stuff they inject into animals - antibiotics, growth hormones etc etc. The problem is also with labeling laws in SA - if people knew what chemicals were in their food they'd be a lot more wary methinks.

  • ludlowdj - 2012-10-02 15:14

    GM products have very little backing in the way of real world studies and the long term effects are simply unknown. This sort of genetic manipulation needs to be studied for years before being considered safe for human consumption or even for use as feed for animals that will be consumed by humans. The inescapable truth is that you are what you eat, and that genetic modification affects the entire food chain and is known to affect the consumer all the way down the food chain from crop to human consumption. Monsanto and its patented "terminator gene" is a direct threat to human life on all levels.

      arthur.hugh - 2012-10-04 10:13

      Agree completely. The likes of Monsanto sell hard on higher yields and cheaper products, especially in third world countries, but the ramifications are enormous as we're starting to see in articles like this one.

  • frances.waring - 2012-10-02 18:44

    what a balls up

  • Rallyround - 2012-10-03 19:25

    Within 4 years of introducing 'insect resistant" Bt maize (corn) into South Africa the African maize stemborer, had developed devastating widespread resistance to Monsanto's Bt maize in every major irrigation scheme across South Africa. Monsanto's response was to stacked it's maize with more insecticidal oozing genes which are being eaten by South Africans without their knowledge.

      arthur.hugh - 2012-10-04 10:14

      They have also limited heirloom seed banks to turnovers of R100k a month, so they're already in bed with SA government. These guys are as unscrupulous as they get.

      Sasha D - 2012-10-04 22:00

      Another example of corporate greed trumping our basic rights as humans. Our environment is being degraded and destroyed while our food security is jeopardised by these unscrupulous and insufficiently regulated business practices. What else can we expect when the capitalist system is inherently designed this way.

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