Chad Deal 6:58 p.m., May 21
Genetically modified crops result in 527 million pound spike in herbicide used on crops
Backers of Proposition 37, which would require food producers who knowingly use genetically modified crops to disclose such use, is for the second time in recent weeks touting the release of a new study to drum up support for the measure.
On September 19, the French University of Caen released a study finding serious health problems in rats fed a lifetime diet of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn and water with levels of the herbicide Roundup considered safe for human consumption. That study was quickly panned by labeling opponents, who pointed to other scientists who have since called the study’s controls and ultimate findings into question.
The new report, from Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, was published over the weekend in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe, and examines the levels of pesticide and herbicide use in the U.S. since lab-engineered crops were introduced in 1996.
During that time, pesticide use has dropped by 123 million pounds, as the genes of crops such as corn and soybeans have been altered to be resistant to insect damage. But 527 million more pounds of pesticides such as Monsanto’s Roundup have been sprayed on crops, resulting in an overall net increase of 7 percent in the amount of chemicals sprayed on American crops.
“Contrary to often-repeated claims that today’s genetically-engineered crops have, and are reducing pesticide use, the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied,” the report concludes, stating that if new corn and soybean seed variations currently in the works are approved, herbicide use could rise another 50 percent.
The news service Reuters reports that more than two dozen weed species have become resistant to glyphosate, the chief ingredient in Roundup. These so-called “superweeds” are forcing farmers to spray more plant killers on their crops in order to tame the invasive species, and as the weeds continue to evolve the demand for more potent herbicides in larger quantities is only expected to increase.
“Things are getting worse, fast,” Benbrook told Reuters. “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 [Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil-dwelling bacteria effective as a pesticide], farmers planting Bt crops are being asked to spray the insecticides that Bt corn and cotton were designed to displace.”