GE Crops Reduce the Use of Herbicides? Not Exactly

By: Just Label It
Posted on January 7, 2014


Do GE crops really reduce the use of herbicides? If you read Amy Harmon’s piece from the New York Times, “A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops” you probably got the impression that they do. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

Herbicide use in the US increased by 527 million pounds between 1996 and 2011 due to GE crops. That’s an overall pesticide increase of 7%.

Most GE food grown in the US is genetically engineered to withstand the spraying of herbicides so when farmers spray, the crops survive while the weeds around them die. Unfortunately, weeds are resilient plants and have adapted to become resistant to the herbicides used on GE crops. Due to these new resistant “superweeds”, farmers have had to increase their use of toxic pesticides.

Industry’s response to the superweed crisis is to develop GE crops that are tolerant to even more potent and dangerous chemicals. If new forms of GE corn and soybeans tolerant to the herbicide 2,4-D are approved, herbicide use could increase by another 50%.

Harmon’s claim that GE crops help reduce the use of herbicides doesn’t stand up to the facts. She only looks at the example of the GE Rainbow papaya grown on the island of Hawaii. The Rainbow papaya is immune to a specific papaya-killing virus opposed to being resistant to herbicides like the other GE crops grown in the US.

The increased herbicide use from GE crops is one of the reasons consumers are demanding a right to know if there are GE ingredients in their foods, so let’s just label it!

  • Jeff Leonard

    No one would claim that use of current GMOs would reduce the use of herbicide. One might claim that current GMOs reduce the toxicity of applied herbicides. Did you read the article by Ms. Harmon? It is about the ring spot virus spread by aphids. It has nothing to do with herbicides. It makes the statement that use of the Rainbow papaya reduced the use of pesticides. As insect-targeting pesticides are generally more toxic to humans than herbicides (we share more biology with insects than plants) that is a genuine benefit. That is also the benefit of crops that produce proteins from BT; they are targeting reduced pesticide use. Measuring either herbicides or pesticides in pounds, as Charles Benbrook is prone to do, is misleading as well. That is like saying, “The doc told me to cut down my drinking so I switched from a quart of beer a day to a pint of whiskey”. One has to incorporate toxicity using a measure like EIQ (environmental impact quotient) developed by Cornell. But then the snake oil would be harder to sell.