Posted by Jill Richardson on August 28, 2012

A decade and a half after farmers began planting the first genetically engineered (GE) crops, the future is clear. The scientists who pioneered genetic engineering thought of themselves as environmentalists, creating products that could reduce pesticide use. Instead, they have simply perpetuated the same "pesticide treadmill" as their pesticide-peddling counterparts resulting in the application of a greater volume of ever more toxic pesticides.

"Pesticide Treadmill"The "pesticide treadmill" occurs when insects "become resistant to the effects of pesticides, requiring farms to adopt new and more potent poisons, to which pests eventually become resistant." DDT was greeted as a war hero when it was used to combat malarial mosquitoes in World War II, but only a few years after it was introduced in agriculture, the pests evolved resistance. Farmers needed a new pesticide, perhaps a more toxic pesticide. For decades that followed, chemical companies introduced pesticide after pesticide, so farmers had no shortage of poisons. If one fails, use another. Never mind the myriad of other options available to prevent or combat pest problems, like attracting or releasing beneficial organisms that eat the pests or simply fostering healthy soil so your plants are healthy enough to defend themselves.

GMOs -- genetically modified organisms -- have now gone down the same path. In the early years of genetic engineering, biotech companies tried creating a number of products with different traits, like a tomato that stays ripe or a variety of canola that produced a different kind of oil. But only two types of GMOs really took off commercially -- Roundup Ready crops and Bt crops. Roundup Ready crops are engineered so they can survive being sprayed by glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. A farmer can spray an entire field with Roundup herbicide, killing only the weeds. Bt crops produce an insecticidal protein derived from a naturally occurring soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), in every cell of the plant. Biotech giants like Monsanto create, patent, and sell the seeds for these two types of GMOs.

But after less than two decades on the market, these crops have also joined the pesticide treadmill as pests have begun to develop resistance to them.

Pesticide-Producing Crops Starting to Cause Mutant, Resistant Pests

Bt CottonThe insecticidal proteins naturally produced by Bt are used in organic farming, but there is a big difference between an organic farmer spraying Bt on crops (the Bt breaks down quickly) and a genetically engineered crop constantly producing Bt in every cell of the organism. With the incredible growth of Bt crops, from none in the mid-1990s to 67 percent of U.S. corn and 77 percent of U.S. cotton by 2012, Americans' exposure to Bt has risen dramatically. A 2010 study found Bt in 93 percent and 80 percent of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively. And, as organic farming comprises a tiny percent of farming overall, there's no doubt that the Bt in their blood mostly, if not entirely, came from genetically engineered foods like Bt corn.

Although humans are now exposed to more Bt than ever, some argue that one Bt crop, Bt cotton, represents a success because conventional cotton depends so heavily on pesticides that are far more toxic than Bt. In theory, by relying on Bt to kill pests, farmers could reduce or eliminate use of more toxic and persistent pesticides. This was not born out by the facts, however: As adoption of Bt cotton increased in the United States, applications of most pesticides declined -- but applications of aldicarb, one of the most concerning pesticides, actually grew. (Aldicarb is so toxic that it is already banned in the European Union and the United States will not allow its use after 2018.)

As a result of increased aldicarb usage, between 1996 and 2008, the amount of pesticides sprayed on each acre of cotton in the U.S. dropped only from 0.56 pounds per acre to 0.47 pounds per acre, even as farmers adopted Bt cotton. And that does not even take into account the pesticides used as seed treatments on cotton seeds during that time.

But, as of this year, there is more news. Insects have begun to evolve resistance to Bt. It began in 2011, when scientists identified Bt resistant corn rootworms in a few fields in Illinois and Iowa. In 2012, even more disturbing reports emerged of Bt resistant bollworms in cotton. A team of University of Arizona scientists looked into the matter and found a number of genetic mutations that provided the bugs with Bt resistance. The problem of these resistant "super pests" is still small, but growing. No doubt the biotech industry will ramp up the arms race against these pests in the coming years. The only questions that remain are: how toxic will their next products be, and will they produce such widespread Bt-resistant pests that it will render Bt a useless tool for organic farmers as well as conventional?

Roundup Ready Crops Caused Massive Increase in Glyphosate Use

While Bt crops are just now stepping on the pesticide treadmill, Roundup Ready crops have been pounding away on it for years now. When they were introduced, Roundup Ready crops resulted in a massive increase in the use of Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides. In the decade after the first Roundup Ready crop was introduced, Roundup Ready soybeans, U.S. farmers increased the amount of glyphosate used on soybeans by a factor of six. The increase occurred for two reasons: first, because farmers shifted away from other herbicides and used glyphosate instead and second, because weeds soon evolved resistance to small amounts of glyphosate, forcing farmers to use more and more of it each year.

The "environmentally friendly" argument for GMOs only applies if you buy the idea that glyphosate is an "environmentally friendly" and "safe" herbicide, as Monsanto claims. Never mind the 2010 study that found that low doses of glyphosate cause birth defects in frogs and chickens -- and the revelation that Monsanto was aware of Roundup's link to birth defects for decades.

Roundup Ready crops allowed Monsanto to capture enormous shares of both the seed market and the herbicide market for four crops: soybeans, cotton, corn, and canola. Since corn and soy together make up half of America's cropland, this represents no small amount of money.

"Super Weed" Glyphosate Resistant Palmer AmaranthSome farmers adopted Roundup Ready crops eagerly, and others did so more reluctantly. Corn and soy farmer George Naylor complains that the best seeds are only made available as Roundup Ready, forcing farmers who want non-GMO seeds to buy inferior seeds as a result. Since the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996, adoption rates by farmers have soared. In 2012, 93 percent of all soybeans, 80 percent of all cotton, and 73 percent of all corn planted in the U.S. was "herbicide tolerant," -- and most of that was Roundup Ready. (Some of the herbicide tolerant crops planted are tolerant of the herbicide glufosinate instead of glyphosate.)

More than a decade later, farmers are facing the predictable result of their actions: Roundup Ready "super weeds." As farmers happily sprayed their entire fields with Roundup again and again, more than 20 species of weeds evolved resistance to glyphosate. The big kahuna of these glyphosate resistant weeds is called palmer amaranth, a monster of a weed that grows seven feet tall and produces up to half a million seeds per plant. The weed can grow three inches a day and it's "tough enough to damage farm machinery."

More Herbicide Resistant Crops on the Way

But where farmers see a crisis, the "Big 6" chemical companies see opportunity. They finally have a chance to break into Monsanto's GMO empire by producing new herbicide tolerant crops designed to be used with their own herbicides. Already approved for use in the U.S. are Pioneer Hi-Bred's corn and soybeans that are tolerant of acetolactate synthase (ALS) inhibiting herbicides. But under review by the USDA right now are many, many more:

Not surprisingly, BASF is one of the only manufacturers of imidazolinone herbicides in the U.S., Bayer is the only manufacturer of isoxaflutole, and, while a long list of smaller companies make 2,4-D, only two of the "Big 6" produce it -- Monsanto and Dow. If the new GMO crops are approved and adopted by farmers, these companies will not only profit by selling their seeds, they will also make money from increased sales of their own herbicides.

The most concerning of these next generation GMOs are the ones designed to work with dicamba (a developmental or reproductive toxin), isoxaflutole (a carcinogen), and 2,4-D, which was one of the two chemicals that made up Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant the U.S. sprayed in Vietnam. The Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) is asking concerned citizens to weigh in on the registration of 2,4-D soy, but dicamba and isofloxatule are deadly chemicals that are receiving far less attention. Imagine a six-fold increase in the use of these chemicals over the next decade!

The old argument that Bt and Roundup Ready GMOs were environmentally friendly because they would reduce toxic pesticide use was a flimsy one at best, but it is now entirely dead in the water. It took less than two decades for bugs and weeds to evolve resistance to Bt and Roundup, respectively. The "Big 6" chemical and biotech companies are now showing their true colors, creating more products certain to increase pesticide usage in the global food supply.


Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog "La Vida Locavore" and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. She is a PRWatch guest contributor.


Images above are from the following sources:

Comments

To what extent do GMO's contribute to the high cost of health care?

Is there a connection to, Autism, Retardation, Down Syndrome, Genetic Disorders? I'm talking about, the long term Health Care issues plauging our species.
I'm not a doctor, or medical profesional, just a man asking a reasonable question. Is there a connection between the myriad amounts of pestisides being used by thoughtless companies and political leaders, and the long term health problems effecting us as a people?
If there is a connection, how many Billions of Dollars does it ad to the high Medicare, medicaid costs Nationaly?

Millions possably billions of pests are killed by these Chemicals anualy, then they adapt, become resistant. This is happening with both Botanical and Biological pests.
Is their a chance this patern could shift to Humans? God Forbid!!

"A 2010 study found Bt in 93 percent and 80 percent of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively. And, as organic farming comprises a tiny percent of farming overall, there’s no doubt that the Bt in their blood mostly, if not entirely, came from genetically engineered foods like Bt corn"

What are we doing to our Grand Children!?! In the name of OUR BETTER INTERESTS! Above all...What are we as a species sacrificing in the name of greater CORPORATE PROFITS!?!

How can anything grown be ORGANIC with "Pesticide drift"?

EPA and CORPORATE PAYOLLA MUST END!!
We need the EPA! it must be un-corrupted by the power of greed, in order to work for our species better interests.

Peace

We are the ONLY COUNTRY in the WORLD that uses GMO's in our food chain...

And the only country to have a For Profit medical system! The perfect circle of life for the medical industry.

They get Profits and we get Cancer!

Too many young people are dying to soon, even middle age people are dying off faster. In my small circle of family & friends in the last 8 months, it's been 7 deaths from cancer. Ages ranging from 19-68 years old.

Our country allows most of the toxic and dangerous chemicals to be used in just about everything, while most other countries know better and ban the uses of them. Why do you think our politicians fight so hard for private insurance ... medical care and the cancer business is booming. Don't ever believe there will be a "cure" for cancer, because it will NEVER be allowed to be produced and marketed here. Too much money to be made in the cancer business. The "dumbing down" of Americans is happening, thanks to the chemicals and the multitudes of vaccinations with chemical preservatives in them. Several generations of kids now have Autism and other neurological disorders in the Autism Spectrum. Throw in all the people that now suffer from Alzheimers, Parkinsons, MS and all other neurological disorders ... it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out.

My husband has NHL, perhaps due to Agent Orange. Apparently, Agent Orange is a prime factor in this horrible cancer, which is treatable, just not cureable. He was not dripping with this in Nam but was on the base where the government was using the poison prior to it's use in VietNam, therefore his exposure was slight in comparison to many of our afflicted military.....I am so tired of the EPA/FDA allowing various "drugs/chemicals/poisons" to be used for what seems to be a 20 year response time before knowing all the problems they can cause. It appears that the people who are not making money from either law suits or stocks and investments are the truely "concerned citizens" who are opposed to this usage in the beginning and somehow their voices are never heard! It is not for the lack of trying....just the greed of the companies, shareholders, government and finally attorneys.
History will always repeat itself..if...we never learn from the past.

How galling it must be to try to speak up a "technology" based only on emotion which is daily falling further and further behind as people see they are spending a lot of money for no additional benefit. And so we get this desperate ranting against GM while around the world more and more people, in more and more countries, are adopting it. Even the Brits in a recent poll voted 64% in favor of planting GM crops in the mother country. So grow up. All pesticides have the possibility of generating resistance and require proper management. But, boy, are they effective in reducing pests and increasing yields by reducing losses. The organic lobby doesn't like to talk much about that. Increased use of glyphosate (one of the least toxic chemicals, far less dangerous than the manure used by the organic brigade) is exactly one of those situations that needs careful management but how about all those pesticides that are now NOT being used because of being replaced by glyphosate? Not a whisper. It is galling but do try to grow up to face reality instead of for ever living in the land of dreams and illusions.

>>far less dangerous than the manure used by the organic brigade)

Your brain must be addled by all the pesticides you consume - or else by the GM crops your government refuses to label. Since when has horse manure caused birth defects?

You are full of horse manure, and quite obviously on the payroll of Monsanto. No sane, educated person holds the irrational views that you do.

Listen Dyall, you are a regular to articles and blogs written about GMOs. I read your comments all the time and have found you to be full of hot air and vitriol regarding any critics of GMO's. It's obvious you are in the deep pockets of Monsanto and the rest of the biotech cronies. Please do yourself a favor and educate yourself on the truth. Here is THE truth. Organic food and food grown from the earth, NOT from technology is more nutritious and safer for the human body. I absolutely go out of my way to avoid GMO ingredients at all costs, I grow my own food and buy from local organic farmers. I would NEVER choose a GM food over a food where I know it's source and is from a local, organic farmer. I would much rather my money be paid to a man or woman who cares about the soil they have and the food they grow and the future of the children and the earth. You are outright LYING when you say that more and more countries around the globe are adopting it. Actually, try the opposite. More and more countries, now OVER 50 countries have BANNED GMO's or they have MANDATORY labeling. And you are dead wrong about the British; I am British. And your ignorance about pesticides doesn't surprise me. I bet that is the only thing they teach you idiots isn't it? Actually, there are MANY natural way to control pests, but the most amusing bit of information here is that pests are necessary for a garden to be healthy. The organic lobby wouldn't discuss your lies because well, they're outright lies. Telling adults to grow up and face reality is something you should practice. Face reality, yes that is it. When you finally see the detrimental outcome of GMO's in the environment and when your children are poisoned because of them or your cattle are killed bc they ate a few cotton plants, then you will see the light. LYING PIECE OF SHIT!

When you stated that " 64% of Brits want to plant GM", I stopped reading your dumb comment. lol Listen dummy, I live in the UK and there's no way Brit's want GM planted over here lol Seriously, don't know where you got that number; must have come from that other dumb person of Owen Patterson who said that. lol In fact, all polls show that 80% of Brits want all meat which come from animal fed on GM labeled and even 60% of all UK farmers don't want the introduction of GM crops in the country. Man, go be dumb, misinformed and ignorant about this subject.

I heard recently that Russia now forbids the United States to sell GMO corn to them. They found that it rapidly caused breast cancer in mice. Why aren't we doing more testing on this stuff to find out if it is cancerous or is able to cross the blood brain barrier? There are a lot of people getting sick. Something is going on to cause swelling in the glial cells (immune cells in the spinal fluid). What if these pesticides or modified foods are causing the problems? Does anyone in our goverment care or are they making too much money off this?

Pages

Bill Moyers presents "United States of ALEC," a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of -- ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.