Image via TheSquigglyLine.
If gentically engineered (GE) crops mean more chemicals, farmer costs, and health risks...is that a good thing?
If you've listened recently to public radio, you may have heard the following promotional announcement on Marketplace, produced by American Public Media: "Marketplace is supported by Monsanto, committed to sustainable agriculture; creating hybrid and biotech seeds designed to increase crop yields and conserve natural resources."
Monsanto's and other biotech companies' push into genetically engineered agriculture--which now controls 80 - 90 percent of all corn and soybean production in the U.S.--has increased the usage of synthetic, weed-killing herbicides by 383 million pounds from 1996 to 2008. Based on USDA data, 46 percent of the total increase occurred in just two recent years; 2007 and 2008.
The alarming increase in pesticide use on GE, "herbicide-tolerant" crops can be attributed to the emergence and spread of herbicide-resistant "super weeds." This is primarily due to over-reliance on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, according to The Organic Center, a nonprofit scientific research organization.
Additionally, according to financial news service Bloomberg.com, farmers are increasingly critical of GE crops because of drastically rising biotech seed prices--up an average of 42 percent this year over earlier seed varieties.
To make matters worse, a recent survey of growers indicates that GE soybean and corn harvests aren't meeting yield expectations. Farmers surveyed also expressed concern about increased costs associated with the need for more herbicides to control weeds. The news contributed to an 11 percent decline in Monsanto's stock price the week the survey results were circulated.
"The drastic increase in pesticide use with GE crops is due primarily to the rapid emergence of weeds resistant to glyphosate," said Dr. Charles Benbrook, chief scientist of The Organic Center and author of the report, Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years, published this week. "With glyphosate-resistant weeds now infesting millions of acres, farmers face rising costs coupled with sometimes major yield losses, and the environmental impact of weed management systems will surely rise."
According to estimates, 80 percent of conventional grocery items may now contain GE ingredients, raising health concerns. GE food consumption has been linked to decreased immunity, increased asthma and food allergies in children, lower fertility and body weight, and impaired gene expression.
In May 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), an internationally renowned physicians organization, called for a moratorium on foods containing genetically engineered, or genetically modified (GM) ingredients. According to the AAEM, "Avoid GM foods when possible... Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food... There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies."
Make the choice for yourself and don't forget that each time you purchase an bag of tortilla chips or anything else at the grocery story, you are voting with your dollars; supporting one agricultural system or another. If you choose to avoid GM foods, one of the best ways to do so is by selecting organically produced foods. In doing so, you'll minimize your dietary exposure to genetically engineered ingredients and potentially toxic, synthetic pesticides. And your support as a consumer will encourage more and more farmers to adopt organic growing methods, thereby reducing the demand for GM grown crops. Pretty powerful demand for a little $3 purchase!
Written in collaboration with Steven Hoffman, chair of Naturally Boulder, a group committed to promoting the growth of organic products and fighting the spread of GMOs in food and agriculture.