The herbicide glyphosate has been getting some attention lately as the EPA recently approved it to be sprayed on genetically engineered (GMO) crops in later stages of crop growth. What’s important to note is that this pesticide is already being sprayed in earlier stages of crop growth as well.
So with this new approval, these GMO crops will have a net increase of this herbicide sprayed over the life cycle from its beginning growth stages and through maturity before it hits your plate.
You may have even seen this petition to the President opposing its use circulating around social media circles and other environmental groups.
What is glyphosate?
Glyphosate has a long history of use — it isn’t a new pesticide by any means. According to the Industry Task Force on Glyphosate, which is organized in part by the companies who sell it, glyphosate works by interfering with the enzymatic production of particular types of amino acids. Essentially, it is an herbicide that inhibits growth of plants in general, as it is a non-selective herbicide.
In genetically engineered crops such as corn, soybeans, and cotton, the plant’s DNA has been altered to withstand this powerful herbicide while (in theory) it works to protect the crop from a whole host of weeds. The selling point behind GMO crops is that farmers would produce higher yields and improve profits while feeding more people.
Side note: The claim that GMO can “feed the world” has since been debunked as hype, however.
While the idea of genetically engineered crops took the agricultural world by storm and now accounts for much of the crops in the US, the reality is that nature has proven to be even more successful than this powerful mix of science and herbicides that promised so much.
Unfortunately, as many scientists warned in the beginning, farmers are now needing to spray higher quantities of glyphosate because weeds are winning.
The weeds that were treated in these genetically modified corn and soybean crops have now developed resistance to glyphosate — now farmers need to use more herbicide to get the job done.
According to Reuters, The U.S. Geological Survey estimated agricultural use of glyphosate in 2012 at more than 283 million pounds, which has increased significantly from 110 million pounds in 2002.
That’s more than double the original quantities of this herbicide sprayed in a ten year span. Can we expect these GMO crops to continue needing exponentially more herbicide – or worse – for it this spray become ineffective altogether?
We won’t know the answer to that question for sure because the truth is, our food supply is the true “guinea pig”. For now, scientists are scrambling to match the effects of spraying glyphosate on crops.
We’ve essentially created “superweeds” that farmers must now contend with. While the herbicide industry would have the public believe that this GMO “science” is winning, the truth is that we are losing the battle against evolution.
In 2012, U.S. News reported that “rapid evolution is helping nasty weeds survive repeated herbicide applications”. The article goes on to explain that farmers who grow genetically modified crops do, in fact, end up using significantly more herbicides than those who use traditional sees.
The article elaborates with the help of a Washington State University researcher, Charles Benbrook, who studies herbicides. He draws the disturbing comparison of overusing antibiotics that have led to drug-resistant bugs and the overuse of herbicides that are creating weeds that are unaffected, and even thrive, despite them.
In a battle with bacteria or weeds,, history teaches us many things. We have to be very smart and very cautious about how we use technology and our current understanding of science to combat problems. This GMO technology along with the corresponding use of herbicides is relatively new —and as technology is concerned, we’re just not that experienced to deal with nature’s rapidly evolving organisms.
Three years after the U.S. News report was written – the same article that states GMO crops were already requiring more herbicides than conventionally grown crops – we have the recent approval by the EPA this spring to use MORE glyphosate.
Are you concerned by this trend? If so, you aren’t alone.
The organic movement is gaining ground because more and more people are coming to terms with the difference between what is promised by these big agricultural corporations and what is delivered – and that difference is growing larger by the day.
Many believe it is time to abandon these unfulfilled promises that make for a great business plan for those making money off of it, but not necessarily for those growing, consuming, or producing goods from these GMO crops.
Next week on the blog: Read more about the current controversy surrounding one of the most common herbicides used today, and its potential impact on your health.