Genetically modified crop (GMC) technologies have forced farmers to use more hazardous pesticides to tackle weeds and insects. GMCs, which are meant to improve plant growth and help farmers resist pests that harm plants, are actually working in reverse: GMC technologies have spurred the development of “superweeds” and “hard-to-kill” insects.
According to a study by Washington State University research professor Charles Benbrook, from 1996 (when pesticides were first introduced) to 2011, GMC use increased pesticide use by 404 million pounds. Also from 1996-2011, herbicide use increased by 527 million pounds and insecticide use increased by 123 million pounds.
In 1996, Monsanto introduced the first GMCs, herbicide-tolerant crops called “Roundup Ready” soybeans, crops that are engineered to endure Monsanto’s herbicide. Monsanto soon used the same technology for corn and cotton.
As of recent, dozens of Roundup-resistant weed species have developed, driving farmers to use more pesticides and chemicals to control these ‘super-weeds’. In the same vein, genetically modified corn and cotton, which are supposed to be poisonous for particular insects, has prompted the growth of ‘hard-to-kill’ insects.
GMCs largely control the US agricultural landscape: an estimated one of every two acres of harvested land has GMCs; and almost 95% of soybean and cotton acres, and over 85% of corn acres, are genetically modified.
The use of GMCs has the same pluses and minuses as the use of drugs for raising food animals such as swines and bovines. We need to use antibiotics and antibacterials to protect animal health so that we can provide concentrated meat to feed 7 billion people. Excess use of these medications may lead to more resistance in humans.
Judging from the conflicting viewpoints of consumers who want safer and cheaper food, and regulators who want to protect public health, what can farmers do to satisfy consumers and regulators, while also guarding against rising costs? Perhaps there is a solution in better communication between crop and food scientists, farmers, GMC, and pesticide manufacturers and regulators.
Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
January 24, 2013
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