Report: GE crops increase pesticide use

This article was originally published in January 2010

(January 2010) — Many Americans assume genetically engineered (GE) crops reduce pesticide use, and they did, in the beginning at least — the first three years when GE corn, soybeans and cotton were planted. But since then, the opposite is true.

Another report confirms that GE crops are responsible for a dramatic increase in pesticide use, as well as epidemics of resistant weeds and smaller profit margins for farmers. It also raises questions about higher pesticide residues in GE food and increased risks to human and environmental health.

The report is based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. It’s the third such report from The Organic Center, based in Oregon. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, Green-peace, the Center for Food Safety, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Consumers Union, and the Rural Advancement Foundation International assisted.

The report found that since GE seeds first were planted commercially in 1996, an additional 318 million pounds of pesticides were applied — compared to the amount likely to have been applied in the absence of GE seeds. (Legally, the term “pesticides” includes herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.) Almost half the total increase, 46 percent, occurred in 2007 and 2008.

While insect-resistant (Bt) corn and cotton consistently have reduced insecticide use (by 64 million pounds since 1996), sharp increases in herbicide use on herbicide-resistant crops far outstrips any of the savings; 382 million pounds more of herbicides have been used, with 92 percent of that on GE soybeans.

Scientists determined that the emergence of nine or more herbicide-resistant weeds is, in fact, the primary cause of the overall increase in pesticide use. Farmers are using additional herbicides, increasing the rate of application, and using multiple applications where previously they applied them only once.

Some resistant weeds are so pernicious that some Southern cotton farmers have abandoned cropland, or resorted to hoeing weeds by hand. Farmers also are resorting to older, higher-risk herbicides, such as paraquat and 2,4-D — a component of Agent Orange.

Read the report: “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years.”

— The Editors

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