If environmental groups don’t drive U.S. agriculture back into subsistence farming, it won’t be for lack of trying. A few days ago, the nation’s media outlets received a press release with this headline:
“New Report Reveals Dramatic Rise in Pesticide Use on Genetically Engineered Crops Due to the Spread of Resistant Weeds. GE Crops Increase Herbicide use by 383 million pounds from 1996 to 2008.”
The article went on to say its author, The Organic Center’s Charles Benbrook, presents “compelling evidence linking the increase in pesticide use on GE, ‘herbicide-tolerant’ crops to the emergence and spread of herbicide-resistant weeds.
Well, duh. Anyone knows that if you increase the sprays of a herbicide, chances are some of the weeds will become resistant. That’s what happened with atrazine in the 1970s and with ALS inhibitors in the 1980s and 1990s. The fact herbicides — mostly glyphosate — have been sprayed on genetically engineered crops has little to do with weed resistance.
And it’s only logical that the number of pounds of herbicides would increase when you’re applying a pound of glyphosate per acre compared to fractions of an ounce of the herbicides it replaced.
“An ounce of one can be more dangerous than a pound of another, so measuring them as if they were exactly the same is nonsense,” said John Reifsteck, an Illinois farmer, writing in the Nov. 20 issue of the Truth About Technology and Trade newsletter.
Others responding to Benbrook’s analysis, funded by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Food Safety and Greenpeace, noted that other studies have shown the opposite — pesticide use on global biotech crops dropped almost 800 million pounds between 1996 and 2008.
They’ve also shown production costs have gone down and crop yields have risen since 1996. “Glyphosate has been low cost, effective and easy to use,” said economist Ross Korves. “It is not a surprise that producers would use it until a more cost effective product becomes available.”
It’s also not surprising that the sponsors of Benbrook’s study are not above melding the facts to try to fit their own agenda. “We’ve dealt with many critics of modern crop technologies for years, including some associated with today’s report,” said CropLife America President Jay Vroom.
“Much of the rhetoric of the news release is familiar — dozens of claims all of which are refuted by government and university of data sources.”
You have to wonder when the public will finally grow weary of claims by environmental groups more interested in fund-raising than truth-telling. Example: Go on the Environmental Working Group Web site, ewg.org, and look at its latest fund-raising ploy warning consumers about the dangers of, gasp, hand sanitizers.
I’m sure you will want to donate $5 to EWG and get your free “Dirty Dozen” refrigerator magnet telling you about produce and pesticides.