In a recent update of their March 2000 background paper, Transgenic Cotton: Are There Benefits For Conservation - A Case Study on GMOs in Agriculture, With a Special Emphasis on Fresh Water, the World Wildlife Foundation concludes "the extensive use of genetically engineered cotton over the past four years in the USA has brought no appreciable reduction in the use of insecticides and herbicides."
The implication is that this bodes ill for fish and other aquatic species as a result of pesticide/herbicide runoff into rivers, lakes, and streams.
Although "one-fourth of American cotton is produced with Bt varieties, no significant reductions in the overall use of insecticides could be achieved," the paper says. Herbicide use "shows a similar picture," it notes. "Although each year the cultivation areas of herbicide-tolerant cotton in the USA have almost doubled... the amount of herbicides used has hardly shown any reduction at all (and) sales of total herbicides that can be used with the various types of genetically modified cotton have risen drastically. For instance, the total of glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide moved from fifth place in 1997 to the second herbicide in cotton growing in 1999."
Expectations that "genetic engineering can contribute to a less environmentally-burdening cotton cultivation have not been fulfilled," the report says, concluding, "Therefore, a broader approach to alternative cultivation strategies must be more intensively researched and promoted - for example, by controlled biological cultivation instead of concentrating on genetic engineering."
The report also worries about the potential for escape of the transgenes through pollen dispersion, the potential for weeds and insects to develop resistance, and the possibility that other non-target insects will multiply in such numbers that they will require the use of more insecticide treatments. About the same time, USDA released new standards for organic produce and many of the stories that resulted in the mainstream media included a statement that of the total amount of cotton pesticides used worldwide, an estimated 35 percent goes on fields in the United States.
"Many of the (cotton) pesticides... have been connected to cancer in humans, contamination of groundwater, erosion and degradation of soil, decline in animal populations, and the overall squelching of biodiversity," one story noted. "Because cotton is also used for animal feed, pesticide residues can be fed via gin trash to cattle stock that later becomes milk and meat."
Almost totally ignored in all this was a report by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy noting that:
- While pesticide use in U.S. agriculture increased by 93 million pounds during the period 1992-97, "there were many instances of major reductions in use." These included a reduction of 2 million pounds... in cotton... because of plantings of... biotech varieties."
- "Uncontrollable natural and economic forces resulted in a few major increases in use that overwhelmed the reductions... some of which were the result of government policies. Most notable was a 6 million-pound increase in herbicide use attributed to growers switching to reduced tillage production practices, which is encouraged by federal farm policies... to reduce... soil erosion, and an increase of 2 million pounds of insecticide use in cotton... due to the federally-sponsored Boll Weevil Eradication Program, which, when completed, should result in a significant pesticide use reduction.
- But the most significant increases in pesticide use during the period were occasioned by a virulent strain of potato late blight fungus, 37 million pounds more per year, and an increase of 48 million pounds by processed orange growers cause by their switching to oil-based products that were cheaper, but required higher usage rates.
"If the new late blight fungus biotype had not appeared, U.S. farmers would have recorded a significant reduction in overall fungicide use," the NCFAP report notes.