May 22, 2012
Toxic Superweeds Being Caused By GMO
An important claim made by the supporters of genetically modified plants is that they will decrease need for chemical pesticides and herbicides. The reverse is true and pesticide use has only increased. These chemicals also have tremendously negative impacts on ecosystems and humans.
In India, a survey conducted by Navdanya in Vidharbha region showed that pesticide use has increased 13 times since Bt cotton was introduced. (Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium usually found in the soil; the toxic gene within it has now been inserted into crop plants by corporate scientists so that the plants themselves continuously produce the toxin.)
In India, Bt cotton sold under the trade name "Bollgard" was supposed to control the Bollworm caterpillar. Today, the Bollworm has become resistant to Bt cotton and now Monsanto is selling Bollgard II with two additional toxic genes in it. In spite of all that, a study published in the Review of Agrarian Studies showed that small farmers in India had a higher expenditure on chemical pesticides for Bt cotton than for other varieties (Swaminathan & Rawal, 2011).
There are estimates that use of Bt corn and cotton in the United States have reduced insecticide use by 125 million pounds. However, more insecticides than that were directly excreted by the plant itself through Bt Cry proteins. For example, each acre planted with Bt corn for corn rootworm and other soil borne insects can decrease the use of insecticide by about 0.21 pounds per acre. However, the genetically modified plants themselves introduce 0.5 to 2.5 pounds of Bt Cry proteins per acre. Making a plant herbicide resistant, means that herbicides can be applied to a field and everything will die except for the GM plant. This practice is leading to dramatic increases in the uses of these poisons. Most of these genetically modified crops were developed in the United States and the highest production is there.
Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the US and the world at large. It was patented and sold by Monsanto since the 1970s under the trade name and proprietary formulation, Roundup. Its popularity shot up with the introduction of HT crops. Data from the US Department of Agriculture indicate that the use of glyphosate on major crops went up by more than 15 fold between 1994 and 2005. The EPA estimated in 2000-2001 that 100 million pounds of glyphosate are used on lawns and farms every year, and over the last 13 years, it has been applied to more than a billion acres.
It did not take long for glyphosate-resistant weeds to appear, just as weeds resistant to every herbicide used in the past had appeared. The Weed Science Society of America reported nine weed species in the United States with confirmed resistance to glyphosate; among them are strains of common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), common waterhemp (Amaranthus rudis), giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida), hairy fleabane (Conyza bonariensis), horseweed (Conyza canadensis), Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum), johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense), rigid ryegrass (Lolium rigidum), and palmer pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri).
Glyphosate-resistant palmer pigweed first turned up in late 2004 in Macon County, Georgia, and has since spread to other parts of Georgia as well as to South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri. An estimated 100 000 acres in Georgia are severely infested with pigweed and 29 counties have now confirmed pigweed resistance to glyhosate, according to weed specialist Stanley Culpepper at the University of Georgia. In 2007, 10 000 acres of glyphosate-resistant pigweed infested land were abandoned in Macon County.
Monsanto’s technical development manager Rick Cole was reported saying that the problems were “manageable”. He advised farmers to alternate crops and use different makes of herbicides. Monsanto sales representatives are encouraging farmers to mix glyphosate and older herbicides such as 2,4-D, banned in Sweden, Denmark and Norway on account of links to cancer and reproductive and neurological damages. It is a component of Agent Orange used in Vietnam in the 1960s.
A fundamental shift in farming practices needed now
In the United States (where most of these genetically modified crops were developed and produced), it seemed at first that there was a reduction in the amount of herbicides applied to GM crops. For the first four years of commercial use of genetically engineered crops, herbicide use decreased by about 2%. However since then, rates of glyphosate (in the herbicide roundup) use on corn, soybeans, and cotton have increased more than 10 per cent per year.
It is estimated that GM crops in the United States have increased the use of herbicides by 240 million kilos more than what would have likely been used in the absence of genetic engineering. United States Geological Service scientists collected weekly air particle and rain samples during two growing seasons in two states that allow genetically engineered herbicide tolerant crops, (Feng-Chin, Simcik, Capel, 2011).
Approximately 15 million acres are now overtaken by Roundup resistant "superweeds", and, in an attempt to stop the spread of these weeds, Monsanto has started offering farmers a "rebate" of up to six US dollars per acre for purchasing and using other, more lethal herbicides.
The organic market has been booming in the United States despite the economic downturn. According to a new report from the US Department of Agriculture, retail sales of organic food went up to $21.1 billion in 2008 from $3.6 billion in 1997. The market is so active that organic farms have struggled at times to produce sufficient supply to keep up with the rapid growth in consumer demand, leading to periodic shortages of organic products.
Certified organic acres more than doubled from 1.3 million acres in 1997 to a little over 4 million acres in 2005 (0.5 percent of all agricultural land in the US). In the same period, the number of organic farms increased from 5 021 to 8 493, and the average size of certified organic farms went from 268 acres to 477 acres.
So why are US farmers failing to taking advantage of the rapidly expanding market? It is thought that potential organic farmers may opt to continue with conventional production methods because of “social pressures from other farmers nearby who have negative views of organic farming”, or because of an inability to weather the effects of reduced yields and profits during the transition period. This is not surprising on account of the persistent negative propaganda carried out by GM proponents, including government regulatory agencies, against organic agriculture.
It's time for all those invested in what we eat and how we eat, start supporting your local farms and communities, especially those making great efforts
in producing and sustaining organic agriculture. Only with enough emphasis and repetition will enough people support the trend towards a healthier food industry for ourselves and future generations.
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.