by David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s
Michael Specter’s recent articles in the New Yorker bashing Vandana Shiva and the labeling of genetically engineered foods (“Seeds of Doubt“and “The Problem with G.M.O. Labels“) are the latest high-profile pro–genetically modified organisms (GMO) articles that fail to engage with the fundamental critique of genetically engineered food crops in U.S. soil today: Rather than reduce pesticide inputs, GMOs are causing them to skyrocket in amount and toxicity.
Setting the record straight, Ramon J. Seidler, PhD, former senior scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has recently published a well-researched article documenting the devastating facts, “Pesticide Use on Genetically Engineered Crops,” in Environmental Working Group’s online AgMag. Seidler’s article cites and links recent scientific literature and media reports, and should be required reading for all journalists covering GMOs as well as for citizens seeking to understand why their right to know if food is genetically engineered is so important. The short discussion below summarizes the major points of his five-page article.
The crops on more than 99 percent of GMO acreage have been engineered by chemical companies to tolerate heavy herbicide (glyphosate) use and/or produce insecticide (Bt) in every cell of every plant over the entire growing season. The result is massive selection pressure that has rapidly created pest resistance—the opposite of integrated pest management, where judicious use of chemical controls is applied only as necessary. Predictably, just as overuse of antibiotics in confined factory farms has created resistant “supergerms” and lead to animals being overdosed with ever more powerful antibiotics, we now have huge swaths of the country infested with “superweeds” and “superbugs” resistant to glyphosate and Bt, meaning a greater volume of more toxic pesticides is being applied.
For example, the use of systemic insecticides, which coat GMO corn and soy seeds and are incorporated and expressed inside the entire plant, has skyrocketed in the last 10 years. This includes use of neonicotinoids (neonics), which are extremely powerful neurotoxins that contaminate our food and water and destroy non-target pollinators and wildlife such as bees, butterflies, and birds. In fact, two neonics in widespread use in the U.S. are currently banned in the EU because of their suspected link to colony collapse disorder in bees.
Mainstream pro-GMO media also fail to discuss the ever-increasing amount of older, much more toxic herbicides like 2,4-D and dicamba being sprayed along with huge volumes of glyphosate to deal with superweeds. Most importantly and egregiously, this biased reporting does not mention the imminent approval of the pesticide industry’s next generation of herbicide-tolerant crops, which are resistant not only to glyphosate, but also to high doses of 2,4-D and dicamba. Their approval will lead to huge increases in the amounts of these toxic chemicals being sprayed on our food and farming communities.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA are in the process of rubber-stamping these into our farming communities (and—unlabeled—onto our dinner plates) this fall. Yet pro-GMO media consistently fail to discuss their imminent approval even as they tout the lower-toxicity profile of glyphosate. Such reporting gives a pass to the pesticide industry that pours millions into lobbying government and media elites and defeating voter ballot initiatives to require labeling of GMO foods.
Hopefully, Seidler’s article will be widely read and disseminated so reporters can learn the facts and check their biases against industry-fed distortions. Consumers need to hear the fundamental concern that GMOs are doubling down on, not freeing us from, the pesticide treadmill that contaminates our food and water while lining the pockets of the chemical companies that make both the GMOs and the pesticides used on them.
David Bronner is president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the top-selling brand of natural soaps in North America. He graduated with a degree in biology from Harvard University in 1995. A leader in the fight to label GMO foods in the U.S., Dr. Bronner’s dedicates resources to progressive issues on behalf of the company’s mission to use profits to help make a better world.
Thank you so much David! This is so true!
We need to promote the article and spread the word to our family, friends and neighbors. The more people who know the truth, the better chance we all have to stop this war on our food. Thanks for all the work you have done for many years for all of us!
David, Great article. The amount of pesticides being used is unbelievable. It seems that the GMO debate is decoy for the obvious issue of more pesticides in our soil and our food.
“We are treating this planet like we have another one to move to”
Good luck with that.
If herbicides and insecticides are not used in any crop then you have lower yields or in some cases no crop which means no food simple as that. Society doesn’t understand that concept since about only 2% of the total population in the US are farmers. As always there’s going to be Pros and Cons in any subject but without going into dept explaining both sides a friendly approach I would recommend is to visit a local grower and their farm. Get out of your cubicle from work and step into a farmers prespective.
Dr,your article reinforces the fact that America is out to destroy man’s or life’s basic need for survival-water,air and food.can these so called negative scientific research be termed and categorized as food terrorist s?
James Early makes a good point, this is not so much about GMOs, as it is about pesticide use. Genetic modification is just another scientific technique that can be used any which way depending on whose hands it is in. We should be demanding more openness from companies about what specifically has been done to the food, all food, because GMOs are not nearly the only foods containing high amounts of pesticides. GMOs have ended up at the heart of the debate, and rightfully so!, considering the direction research has gone in with what appears to be a sole focus on yield and economic gain and none on the health of the consumers – is it impossible to find a middle ground? I’d like to see legislation that requires companies to disclose how and why a product has been genetically modified, as well as pesticide levels and the likes, rather than just a generic GMO label.
It just makes me so sad, because I remember years ago in high school biology when I first heard of the concept of genetic modification; we were idealistic teenagers and it was all about fine things like vitamins and salt tolerance to enable people to eat healthier and grow things on soil that was previously unusable, and it seems nothing has come of that. And now so many people are scared of GMOs, all GMOs, and refuse to entertain even the notion that it could be used for good (just see the Golden Rice debate. The pros are saying it could save the lives of millions of people, while the antis are saying it’s a GMO and should therefore be forbidden, and it just seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to the word, and it’s getting nowhere).
Zoe: watch Genetic Roulette. You’ll discover that the middle ground you seek is impossible for various reasons.
Also, in Bowman vs. Monsanto (Supreme Court, 2013), Monsanto’s lawyer admitted that GMOs produce lower yields. The Court was forced to bring it up because marketing statements are not allowed in legal testimony. Only facts are allowed.
This entire article is about indiscriminate use of HERBICIDES. I entirely agree with the premise that there are too many herbicidal chemicals such as 2, 4 D, Dicamba, Glyphosate etc, all herbicides mind you, being used. So, why is the title saying “Pesticide Use Skyrocketing…”
Present correct arguments without mixing up things. Just throwing in Bt toxins once in the article does not make this an article on pesticide use skyrocketing. There is not a single sentence of how BT toxins work etc and this is being shared by Beekeeper Organizations etc.
As a scientist, it is important to present results without misleading the public.
Focus on the GMHT crops and build your argument there than provide a misleading title and unconnected facts int he article.
The article’s second-to-last paragraph mentions one big source of bad/corrupted public policy: lobbying.
Bad public policy keeps happening partly because we keep electing politicians who take campaign contributions from various corporations, their employees, and their lobbyists. If enough people start casting protest votes for minor party candidates, and boycott the well-publicized Democrat and Republican candidates, then viable contenders will appear. If enough of us choose, such a candidate can win, in spite of the self-fulfilling prophecy that he/she cannot win without big money backing.
I’ve gotten the impression that many congressional and presidential candidates hate being beholden to, and corrupted by, special interests. They have no way out, unless voters start favoring candidates who refuse the big money and who pledge to ignore the wishes of PACs who independently advertise on the candidate’s behalf.
What’s the point of voters switching back and forth between electing Democrats and Republicans? That doesn’t seem to change anything, and they are the ones who caused many of the problems we face. We would never vote for a politician known to take bribes, so why accept candidates who receive any benefit from powerful interest groups?