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Study says genetically engineered crops increasing U.S. pesticide use

(Friday, Nov. 28, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- From a Nov. 25 news release:

Contact Dr. Benbrook at 208-263-5236 or via e-mail benbrook@hillnet.com

The planting of 550 million acres of genetically engineered (GE) corn, soybeans and cotton in the United States since 1996 has increased pesticide use by about 50 million pounds, according to a report released today by the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center.

The report is the first comprehensive study of the impacts of all major commercial GE crops on pesticide use in the United States over the first eight years of commercial use, 1996-2003. It draws on official U.S. Department of Agriculture data on pesticide use by crop and state. The report is entitled “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Eight Years,” and is the sixth in a series of “Technical Papers” prepared for Ag BioTech InfoNet. It is being published today via the Internet (hard copies will not be provided, but can be printed for free from the website).

The report calculates the difference between the average pounds of pesticides applied on acres planted to GE crops compared to the pounds applied to otherwise similar conventional crops. In their first three years of commercial sales (1996-1998), GE crops reduced pesticide use by about 25.4 million pounds but in the last three years (2001-2003), over 73 million more pounds of pesticides were applied on GE acres.

Substantial increases in herbicide use on “Herbicide Tolerant” (HT) crops, especially soybeans, accounted for the increase in pesticide use on GE acres compared to acres planted to conventional plant varieties. Many farmers have had to spray incrementally more herbicides on GE acres in order to keep up with shifts in weeds toward tougher-to-control species, coupled with the emergence of genetic resistance in certain weed populations.

“For years weed scientists have warned that heavy reliance on herbicide tolerant crops would trigger ecological changes in farm fields that would incrementally erode the technology’s effectiveness. It now appears that this process began in 2001 in the United States in the case of herbicide tolerant crops,” according to Benbrook.

The report concludes that the other major category of GE crops, corn and cotton engineered to produce the natural insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis ( Bt) in plant cells, continues to reduce insecticide use by 2 million to 2.5 million pounds annually. The increase in herbicide use on HT crop acres, however, far exceeds the modest reductions in insecticide use on acres planted to Bt crops, especially since 2001.

The 46-page report is posted on Ag BioTech InfoNet at -- http://wwww.biotech-info.net/technicalpaper6.html

Dr. Benbrook has a PhD. in agricultural economics and has carried out several studies on the impacts of genetically engineered crops on farming systems and costs and the environment. He directs the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center, which is based in Sandpoint, Idaho. From 1984 through 1990, he served as the Executive Director of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Agriculture.

Financial and in-kind support for this study was provided by:

The Union of Concerned Scientists;
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University;
Consumer Policy Institute, Consumers Union;
The Center for Food Safety;
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; and The Organic Farming Research Foundation.