We’ve all been duped. Back in 1996 when genetically modified (or genetically engineered) seeds hit the market, we were sold on the idea that these technologically-advanced crops would reduce the need for chemical herbicides, thereby lessening the cost and environmental damage caused by these chemicals.
And we bought this story. So much so that about 90 percent of soybean and cotton acres and more than 85 percent of corn crops today are genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (brand name Roundup, which happens to also be manufactured by the company that created the seeds).
Over the years varying scientific groups have warned about the possible development of herbicide-resistant weeds, or “superweeds” as they are called. With so many acres planted with herbicide-resistant crops, and with one main type of herbicide used, it was thought that the weeds would eventually also develop resistance to the herbicides, creating a problem with the opposite result as expected—more herbicide use, not less.
A recent report published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe is the first peer-reviewed, published estimate of the impacts of herbicide resistant crops. “Contrary to often-repeated claims that today’s genetically engineered crops have reduced, and are reducing, pesticide [herbicide] 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,” stated the report.
“Largely because of the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds, herbicide resistant crop technology has led to a 527 million pound increase in herbicide use across three major crops, compared to what herbicide use would likely have been in the absence of herbicide resistant crops,” continued the report. And yet, “The seed-pesticide industry is enjoying record sales and profits, and the spread of resistant weeds and insects opens up new profit opportunities in the context of the seed industry’s current business model.” So much for promises.
This report was preceded by a similar report three years ago that urged, “We hope that this report will help trigger new government and academic assessments of the performance, costs, and risks associated with today’s GE [genetically engineered] crops. Without such assessments, American agriculture is likely to continue down the road preferred by the biotechnology industry, a path that promises to maximize their profits by capturing a larger share of farm income, and limit the ability of plant breeders and other agricultural scientists to address other pressing goals of wider importance to society as a whole.”
It’s enough to make you never want to buy a genetically modified food again. The profit-driven mentality that runs genetically engineered crop development comes at a huge and as-yet-unknown cost. Support non-GMO crops by purchasing organic and non-GMO certified foods. With purchasing power we can make a difference.