New study claims GE crops increasing pesticide use

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The use of herbicides in the production of genetically modified corn, cotton and soybeans is increasing, according to a new study published by Washington State University research professor Charles Benbrook. This analysis, based on publicly available data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service, is the first peer-reviewed, published estimate of the impact of genetically engineered, herbicide tolerant crops on pesticide use.

The findings suggest that pesticide reduction seen earlier in the adoption of these crops has reversed. Benbrook writes that the emergence and spread of glyphosate-resistance weeds is strongly correlated with the upward trajectory in herbicide use.

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

Benbrook’s analysis shows that over-reliance on herbicide-tolerant crops has led to shifts in weed communities and spread resistant weeds, which has forced farmers to increase herbicide application rates, (especially glyphosate), spray more often and add new herbicides that work through an alternative mode of action into their spray programs.

Significant Findings

Of the findings that Benbrook researched, here are some of the top results he found.

  • Over the first six years of commercial use (1996-2001), HT and Bt crops reduced pesticide use by 31 million pounds, or by about 2 percent, compared to what it likely would have been in the absence of GE crops.
  • Bt crops have reduced insecticide use by 10 million to 12 million pounds annually over the past decade. From 1996-2011, Bt crops have reduced insecticide use on the three crops by 123 million pounds, or about 28 percent.
  • The annual per acre reduction in insecticide use on acres planted to Bt corn and cotton has trended downward since 1996, because of the shift toward lower-dose insecticides and the expansion of Bt corn onto acres that would not likely be treated with an insecticide.
  • 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 in response to recommendations from entomologists to preserve the efficacy of Bt technology by applying insecticides previously displaced by the planting of Bt crops.
  • HT crops have increased herbicide use by 527 million pounds over the 16-year period (1996-2011). The incremental increase per year has grown steadily from 1.5 million pounds in 1999, to 18 million five years later in 2003, and 79 million pounds in 2009. In 2011, about 90 million more pounds of herbicides were applied than likely in the absence of HT, or about 24 percent of total herbicide use on the three crops in 2011.

One of the concerns resulting from the discovery of this data is that farmers are increasingly returning to using older chemistries that are considered higher risk, Benbrook said.

Click here to view a summary of the study’s major findings. 


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Neil    
Iowa  |  October, 03, 2012 at 12:04 PM

You do realize that your article is headlined increased "pesticide" use, and in fact the whole article is about increased "herbicide" use.

Ross    
Iowa  |  October, 03, 2012 at 03:02 PM

@Neil, ...you must not have read through the entire article because it does talk about insecticide, ...further the term pesticides includes all herbicides. This doesn't change the content of the article, and another chink in the "GMOs are the only answer" armour!!!

curt    
idaho  |  October, 04, 2012 at 07:11 PM

Both of you seem to be missing the bigger picture that total chemical usage is reduced. Also as the people in the field knew at the time genetically engineered crops were and are a work in progress. The work being done needs all our support to continue to make improvements to meet the great challenge of feeding the increasing world population. I hope people will work together and continue to make the great strides and small steps that I have had the priviledge to see and have a very small part in as everyone steps away from my side your side to OUR challenge it will be met and exceeded.

Tony    
Nebraska  |  October, 05, 2012 at 09:56 AM

Bravo, Curt! I have been a professional Agronomist/Applicator for 30+ years and have seen fantastic gains in how we produce food/fuel/fiber. Pesticides are an integral tool when no other IPM solution is available, or in event of carefully planned pest management. A lot of the products we use today are considerably MORE handler/applicator/environmentally friendly than ever before..."kudos" to the R&D & manufacturers! Anyone ever looked at pesticide use per UNIT OF CROP YIELD...? I think that would be an interesting trend to see....

Chris    
Alberta  |  October, 10, 2012 at 03:52 AM

"GMO" has almost become synonymous with "glyphosate tolerant" these days. I suspect when there are other GMO choices available besides glyphosate, it will be a major leap again. I just hope the next leap is introduced more intelligently than what Monsanto did with "GMO" regarding public consumer perceptions. What a disaster. Such great technology, handcuffed forever, needlessly.


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