New Benbrook data blow away claims of pesticide reduction due to GM crops

Wednesday, 04 July 2012 12:02 – Courtesy of GM Watch

Data presented at a conference by Dr Charles Benbrook analyse pesticide use on GM and non-GM equivalent crops over the first 16 years of use, from 1996 to 2011. The analysis is based on widely accepted USDA data.

Crops considered are herbicide-tolerant corn, soy, and cotton; Bt corn varieties engineered to resist corn rootworm and European corn borer pests; and Bt cotton.

Benbrook’s new data challenge “conventional wisdom” on GM crops and pesticide use. Dozens of papers in peer-reviewed journals assert GM crops reduce pesticide use, either based on no data or proprietary surveys of “representative fields”. Scientists repeat the claim in professional meetings and policy venues and lack of independent analyses by government or university experts allows the claim to go unchallenged, despite growing evidence to the contrary.

Implications of GM crop cultivation at large spatial scales
Presentation given in Bremen, Germany, June 14-15, 2012
By Charles Benbrook, PhD, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, Pullman, WA
Summary by GMWatch

1. Increased herbicide use on GM RR soy compared with non-GM soy:
*Use of glyphosate on GM RR soy acres INCREASED from 0.69 pounds per acre in 1996 to 1.56 in 2011.
*Use of other herbicides on GM RR soy acres DECREASED from 0.20 pounds per acre in 1996 to 0.12 in 2011.
*Use of all herbicides on GM RR soy acres INCREASED from 0.89 pounds per acre in 1996 to 1.68 in 2011.
*Use of all herbicides on non-GM soy acres DECREASED from 1.19 pounds per acre in 1996 to 0.96 in 2011.

2. Non-sustainability of GM soy:
The differential between herbicides used on GM RR soy and non-GM soy is growing, showing that GM RR soy is increasing the use of herbicides over time whereas non-GM soy is decreasing herbicide use. In 1996 GM RR soy needed 0.30 pounds per acre less herbicide than non-GM soy. But in 2011 GM RR soy needed 0.73 pounds per acre more herbicide than non-GM soy.

3. Increased herbicide use on GM herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops as compared with non-GM crops in 2011:
*0.73 pounds per acre more in the case of soy
*0.41 pounds per acre more in corn
*0.86 pounds per acre more in cotton.

4. Impacts of HT crops on herbicide use 1996-2011:
*Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops have INCREASED herbicide use by a total or 527 million pounds (239 million kgs)
*HT soybeans account for 72% of the total increase in herbicide use across the three HT crops.

5. Bt crop impacts on insecticide use and overall GM crop impacts 1996-2011:
*Bt corn and cotton have REDUCED chemical insecticide spray use by 124 million pounds (56 million kgs).
*GM crops have INCREASED overall pesticide use by 403 million pounds (183 million kgs). This means an additional 0.25 pounds (0.28 kg/ha) of active ingredient for every GM trait acre.

6. Increase in rate (pounds per acre) of glyphosate applications on GM glyphosate-tolerant corn, cotton and soy:
*Corn: increase of 54% between 1996 and 2010
*Cotton: increase of 206% between 1996 and 2010
*Soy: increase of 96.6% between 1996 and 2006.

[GMWatch comment: The above data should not surprise us – as Benbrook points out, the pesticide industry owns the seed industry:
*Changes in US patent and intellectual property law created unprecedented profit opportunities.
*The pesticide industry took over the seed industry, in the late 1980s-1990s.]

7. Bt corn for European corn borer insecticide (endotoxin) production compared with chemical insecticide sprays displaced:
*0.12 pounds chemical insecticide sprays applied per acre for ECB control on non-GM corn in 2010
*MON 810 produces 0.18 pounds endotoxins per acre
*Bt 11 produces 0.25 pounds endotoxin per acre
*MON 89034, Cry1A.105 plus Cry2Ab2 produces 0.6 pounds of two endotoxins per acre (5 X the amount of chemical insecticides displaced).

8. Bt corn for rootworm control insecticide (endotoxin) production compared with chemical insecticide sprays displaced:
*0.19 pounds chemical insecticide sprays applied per acre for rootworm control on non-GM corn in 2010
*MON 88017, Cry3Bb1 produces 1.7 pounds endotoxin per acre
*Dow/Pioneer DAS 59122-7, Cry34Ab1 plus Cry35Ab1 produces 2.5 pounds per acre (13 X the amount of chemical insecticides displaced).

9. Chemical insecticides displaced in fields planted to Monsanto-Dow AgroSciences SmartStax corn:
*Total expression of Bt proteins is 3.73 pounds per acre: 12 X more than the chemical insecticide sprays displaced (0.31 pounds active ingredients)

[GMWatch comment: The above data confirm that GM Bt crops do not reduce or eliminate insecticides, but simply change the way that pesticides are used, from sprayed on, to built in.]

10. HT technology has dramatically accelerated the emergence and spread of resistant weeds:
*Over 14 million acres (5.6 million ha) in the US are now infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds.
*22 weeds now resistant to glyphosate, and more than a dozen pose economic threat to US farmers.
*Some weeds have evolved resistance via two or more mechanisms of resistance.
*44% of multiple herbicide-resistant weeds have appeared since 2005.

11. Prospects for weed management for US farmers:
*Few, if any, viable chemical options will remain.
*Non-chemical options are costly and require significant system changes – return to rotations, heavy tillage to bury weed seeds, planting of cover crops, and mechanical cultivation and/or hand weeding.
*“It is very unlikely that new herbicides with new modes of action will be available within ten to 15 years.” – MDK Owen, 2011, J. Consumer Protection and Food Safety: 85-89.

12. Industry “solutions”:
*Industry push to market 2,4-D, dicamba, and paraquat HT crops.
*Even without 2,4-D HT crops, 2,4-D is the #1 cause of crop damage episodes investigated by state departments of agriculture in the US.
*Studies link 2,4-D exposure to reproduction problems, spontaneous abortions, birth defects, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

13. Emerging issues in the wake of GM crop technology:
*Corporate control over seed industry and germplasm – profits now drive breeding decisions in the US, not problem-solving.
*Passive role of US government in dealing with herbicide resistance and the collateral damage of HT crops.
*Erosion of investments in prevention-based IPM and farmer IPM skill sets.
*Rapidly growing reliance on systemic delivery of toxins – seed treatments, insecticides, Bt endotoxins – that alter risk profiles.

14. Lack of independent research on GM traits and systems:
*GM seed “technology agreements” contain language to effect that “This seed is for commercial use by farmers growing crops, and may not be used for any research purpose or to compare performance to other corn/soybean/cotton varieties.”

Background to the new data

The new data is an update of Benbrook’s previous reports of 2004 and 2009. The 2009 report found that herbicide use had increased 383 million pounds (173 million kgs) in first 13 years of GM crop use, due to herbicide-tolerant crops. A modest reduction in chemical insecticide spray applications due to Bt crops (down 64.2 million pounds or 29.1 million kg) was swamped by an overall increase in pesticide use of 318 million pounds (144 million kg).

Monsanto: The World’s Poster Child for Corporate Manipulation and Deceit – Part 3

2010-02-05-cornscary.jpgWhen Forbes magazine declared Monsanto as the Company of the Year for 2009, millions of surprised people were forced to reevaluate their opinions about a major corporation. Now they no longer trust Forbes.

Monsanto is one of the most despised corporations on earth. This is the third in a series of articles that expose their not-so-hidden dark side and how, if unrestrained, Monsanto could unleash a cataclysm. Indeed, it has already started…

Part 3 of 10

Covering up health dangers

The policy Taylor oversaw in 1992 needed to create the impression that unintended effects from GM crops were not an issue. Otherwise their GRAS status would be undermined. But internal memos made public from a lawsuit showed that the overwhelming consensus among the agency scientists was that GM crops can have unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects. Various departments and experts spelled these out in detail, listing allergies, toxins, nutritional effects, and new diseases as potential problems. They had urged superiors to require long-term safety studies. In spite of the warnings, according to public interest attorney Steven Druker who studied the FDA’s internal files, “References to the unintended negative effects of bioengineering were progressively deleted from drafts of the policy statement (over the protests of agency scientists).”

FDA microbiologist Louis Pribyl wrote about the policy, “What has happened to the scientific elements of this document? Without a sound scientific base to rest on, this becomes a broad, general, ‘What do I have to do to avoid trouble’-type document. . . . It will look like and probably be just a political document. . . . It reads very pro-industry, especially in the area of unintended effects.”

The FDA scientists’ concerns were not only ignored, their very existence was denied. Consider the private memo summarizing opinions at the FDA, which stated, “The processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding are different and according to the technical experts in the agency, they lead to different risks.” Contrast that with the official policy statement issued by Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney: “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” On the basis of this false statement, the FDA does not require GM food safety testing.

Fake Safety Assessments

Monsanto participates in a voluntary consultation process with the FDA that is derided by critics as a meaningless exercise. Monsanto submits whatever information it chooses, and the FDA does not conduct or commission any studies of its own. Former EPA scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman, who analyzed FDA review records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, says the FDA consultation process “misses obvious errors in company-submitted data summaries, provides insufficient testing guidance, and does not require sufficiently detailed data to enable the FDA to assure that GE crops are safe to eat.”

But that is not the point of the exercise. The FDA doesn’t actually approve the crops or declare them safe. That is Monsanto’s job! At the end of the consultation, the FDA issues a letter stating:

“Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn products derived from this new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, and other relevant parameters from corn currently on the market, and that the genetically modified corn does not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA. . . . As you are aware, it is Monsanto’s responsibility to ensure that foods marketed by the firm are safe, wholesome and in compliance with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements.

The National Academy of Sciences and even the pro-GM Royal Society of London describe the US system as inadequate and flawed. The editor of the prestigious journal Lancet said, “It is astounding that the US Food and Drug Administration has not changed their stance on genetically modified food adopted in 1992. . . . Governments should never have allowed these products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for effects on health.”

One obvious reason for the inflexibility of the FDA is that they are officially charged with both regulating biotech products and promoting them–a clear conflict. That is also why the FDA does not require mandatory labeling of GM foods. They ignore the desires of 90% of American citizens in order to support the economic interests of Monsanto and the four other GM food companies.

Monsanto: The World’s Poster Child for Corporate Manipulation and Deceit – Part 2

2010-02-05-cornscary.jpgWhen Forbes magazine declared Monsanto as the Company of the Year for 2009, millions of surprised people were forced to reevaluate their opinions about a major corporation. Now they no longer trust Forbes.

Monsanto is one of the most despised corporations on earth. This is the second in a series of articles that expose their not-so-hidden dark side and how, if unrestrained, Monsanto could unleash a cataclysm. Indeed, it has already started…

Part 2 of 10

Infiltrating the Minds and Offices of the Government

To get their genetically modified products approved, Monsanto has coerced, infiltrated, and paid off government officials around the globe. In Indonesia, Monsanto gave bribes and questionable payments to at least 140 officials, attempting to get their genetically modified (GM) cotton accepted. In 1998, six Canadian government scientists testified before the Senate that they were being pressured by superiors to approve rbGH, that documents were stolen from a locked file cabinet in a government office, and that Monsanto offered them a bribe of $1-2 million to pass the drug without further tests. In India, one official tampered with the report on Bt cotton to increase the yield figures to favor Monsanto. And Monsanto seems to have planted their own people in key government positions in India, Brazil, Europe, and worldwide.

Monsanto’s GM seeds were also illegally smuggled into countries like Brazil and Paraguay, before GMOs were approved. Roberto Franco, Paraguay’s Deputy Agriculture Ministry, tactfully admits, “It is possible that [Monsanto], let’s say, promoted its varieties and its seeds” before they were approved. “We had to authorize GMO seeds because they had already entered our country in an, let’s say, unorthodox way.”

In the US, Monsanto’s people regularly infiltrate upper echelons of government, and the company offers prominent positions to officials when they leave public service. This revolving door has included key people in the White House, regulatory agencies, even the Supreme Court. Monsanto also had George Bush Senior on their side, as evidenced by footage of Vice President Bush at Monsanto’s facility offering help to get their products through government bureaucracy. He says, “Call me. We’re in the ‘de-reg’ business. Maybe we can help.”

Monsanto’s influence continued into the Clinton administration. Dan Glickman, then Secretary of Agriculture, says, “there was a general feeling in agro-business and inside our government in the US that if you weren’t marching lock-step forward in favor of rapid approvals of biotech products, rapid approvals of GMO crops, then somehow, you were anti-science and anti-progress.” Glickman summarized the mindset in the government as follows:

“What I saw generically on the pro-biotech side was the attitude that the technology was good, and that it was almost immoral to say that it wasn’t good, because it was going to solve the problems of the human race and feed the hungry and clothe the naked. . . . And there was a lot of money that had been invested in this, and if you’re against it, you’re Luddites, you’re stupid. That, frankly, was the side our government was on. Without thinking, we had basically taken this issue as a trade issue and they, whoever ‘they’ were, wanted to keep our product out of their market. And they were foolish, or stupid, and didn’t have an effective regulatory system. There was rhetoric like that even here in this department. You felt like you were almost an alien, disloyal, by trying to present an open-minded view on some of the issues being raised. So I pretty much spouted the rhetoric that everybody else around here spouted; it was written into my speeches.”

He admits, “when I opened my mouth in the Clinton Administration [about the lax regulations on GMOs], I got slapped around a little bit.”

Hijacking the FDA to Promote GMOs

In the US, new food additives must undergo extensive testing, including long-term animal feeding studies. There is an exception, however, for substances that are deemed “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). GRAS status allows a product to be commercialized without any additional testing. According to US law, to be considered GRAS the substance must be the subject of a substantial amount of peer-reviewed published studies (or equivalent) and there must be overwhelming consensus among the scientific community that the product is safe. GM foods had neither. Nonetheless, in a precedent-setting move that some experts contend was illegal, in 1992 the FDA declared that GM crops are GRAS as long as their producers say they are. Thus, the FDA does not require any safety evaluations or labels whatsoever. A company can even introduce a GM food to the market without telling the agency.

Such a lenient approach to GM crops was largely the result of Monsanto’s legendary influence over the US government. According to the New York Times, “What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto and, by extension, the biotechnology industry got. . . . When the company abruptly decided that it needed to throw off the regulations and speed its foods to market, the White House quickly ushered through an unusually generous policy of self-policing.” According to Dr. Henry Miller, who had a leading role in biotechnology issues at the FDA from 1979 to 1994, “In this area, the U.S. government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do.”

The person who oversaw the development of the FDA’s GMO policy was their Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Michael Taylor, whose position had been created especially for him in 1991. Prior to that, Taylor was an outside attorney for both Monsanto and the Food Biotechnology Council. After working at the FDA, he became Monsanto’s vice president. He’s now back at the FDA, as the US food safety czar.

Monsanto: The World’s Poster Child for Corporate Manipulation and Deceit – Part 1

2010-02-05-cornscary.jpgMonsanto’s public relations story about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is largely based on five concepts:

1. GMOs are needed to feed the world.

2. GMOs have been thoroughly tested and proven safe.

3. GMOs increase yield.

4. GMOs reduce the use of agricultural chemicals.

5. GMOs can be contained, and therefore coexist with non-GM crops.

All five are pure myths—blatant falsehoods about the nature and benefit of this infant technology. The experience of former Monsanto employee Kirk Azevedo helps expose the first two lies, and provides some insight into the nature of the people working at the company.

In 1996, Monsanto recruited young Kirk Azevedo to sell their genetically engineered cotton. Azevedo accepted their offer not because of the pay increase, but due to the writings of Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro. Shapiro had painted a picture of feeding the world and cleaning up the environment with his company’s new technology. When he visited Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters for new employee training, Azevedo shared his enthusiasm for Shapiro’s vision during a meeting. When the session ended, a company vice president pulled him aside and set him straight. “Wait a second,” he told Azevedo. “What Robert Shapiro says is one thing. But what we do is something else. We are here to make money. He is the front man who tells a story. We don’t even understand what he is saying.” Azevedo realized he was working for “just another profit-oriented company,” and all the glowing words about helping the planet were just a front.

A few months later he got another shock. A company scientist told him that Roundup Ready cotton plants contained new, unintended proteins that had resulted from the gene insertion process. No safety studies had been conducted on the proteins, none were planned, and the cotton plants, which were part of field trials near his home, were being fed to cattle. Azevedo “was afraid at that time that some of these proteins may be toxic.”

He asked the PhD in charge of the test plot to destroy the cotton rather than feed it to cattle, arguing that until the protein had been evaluated, the cows’ milk or meat could be harmful. The scientist refused. Azevedo approached everyone on his team at Monsanto to raise concerns about the unknown protein, but no one was interested. “I was somewhat ostracized,” he said. “Once I started questioning things, people wanted to keep their distance from me. . . . Anything that interfered with advancing the commercialization of this technology was going to be pushed aside.” Azevedo decided to leave Monsanto. He said, “I’m not going to be part of this disaster.”

Monsanto’s Toxic Past

Azevedo got a small taste of Monsanto’s character. A verdict in a lawsuit a few years later made it more explicit. On February 22, 2002, Monsanto was found guilty for poisoning the town of Anniston, Alabama with their PCB factory and covering it up for decades. They were convicted of negligence, wantonness, suppression of the truth, nuisance, trespass, and outrage. According to Alabama law, to be guilty of outrage typically requires conduct “so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society.”

The $700 million fine imposed on Monsanto was on behalf of the Anniston residents, whose blood levels of Monsanto’s toxic PCBs were hundreds or thousands of times the average. This disease-producing chemical, used as coolants and lubricants for over 50 years, are now virtually omnipresent in the blood and tissues of humans and wildlife around the globe. Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group says that based on Monsanto documents made public during a trial, the company “knew the truth from the very beginning. They lied about it. They hid the truth from their neighbors.” One Monsanto memo explains their justification: “We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business.” Welcome to the world of Monsanto.

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