U.S. 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 a 404 million pounds increase in overall pesticide use by from the time they were introduced in 1996 through 2011, according to the report by Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.
Benbrook’s paper 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 Co. 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 percent,” Benbrook said.
Could genetically modified seeds be a drought solution?
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 spokesman 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 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to about 90 million pounds in 2011.
Similarly, the introduction of genetically modified “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.
Herbicide-tolerant and Bt-transgenic crops now dominate U.S. agriculture, accounting for about one in every two acres of harvested cropland, and around 95 percent of soybean and cotton acres, and over 85 percent of corn acres.
“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.”
2 October 2012
And the pollution of water is just getting worse and worse by the day…. The amount of pesticides and insecticides being used are increasing daily; ending up in our rivers, our underground water and eventually on your table. Maybe in a few year’s time we would’ve polluted our water so badly that we won’t have an alternative but to harvest our own rainwater.