Don’t Listen to Monsanto: GMOs Lead to More Pesticides

Contrary to what Monsanto would have us believe, a new study published in the peer-reviewed journalEnvironmental Sciences Europe suggests that pesticide use has been on the rise thanks to the adoption of GMO technology for growing up to 95% of the nation’s corn, soybeans and cotton.

The biotech seed and agrichemical company has a stranglehold on American industrial agriculture, with more than 170 million acres of American farmland taken up for its products, including RoundUp Ready crops that are genetically engineered to survive repeated applications of the company’s RoundUp herbicides. As a result, according to the study, so-called “superweeds” are proliferating and farmers are trying to manage the situation with heavier applications of RoundUp.

What Monsanto Claims

In its campaign against California’s Prop 37 GMO labeling initiative, Monsanto and its cohorts argue that the technology “has been used for nearly two decades to grow varieties of corn, soybeans and other crops that resist diseases and insects and require fewer pesticides.” Likewise, on its website, the company claims that its GMO technology has allowed farmers to “decrease the overall use of herbicides.”

Charles Benbrook, however, author of the new study and research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, “shreds that claim,” as Tom Philpott put it in a piece for Mother Jones.

Counterclaims from the New Study

Between 1996 and 2011, Benbrook found, overall pesticide use increased by 404 million pounds, or about 7%, in the U.S. Bt crops, which contain a gene that make them toxic to crop-destroying insects, have reduced insecticide use by 123 million pounds, but herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 527 million pound increase in the application of herbicides.

“By 2011,” Philpott writes, “farms using Roundup Ready seeds were using 24 percent more herbicide than non-GMO farms planting the same crops, Benbrook told me. What happened? By that time, ‘in all three crops [corn, soy, and cotton], resistant weeds had fully kicked in,’ Benbrook said, and farmers were responding both by ramping up use of Roundup and resorting to older, more toxic herbicides like 2,4-D.”

At the same time, Bt crops are beginning to fail as well and, as Benbrook told Philpott, farmers in the Midwest are being advised to spray additional insecticides to protect them.

Next: Monsanto’s Response to the Study’s Findings

Monsanto’s Response to the Study’s Findings

As of yet, Monsanto has not commented and says it is reviewing the study, which was the first to examine federal data on pesticide use.

In areas where the study may be open to criticism, writes Tom Laskawy for Grist, it’s no fault of Benbrook’s, who had to come up with a model to estimate pesticide use. “It’s the fact that, in 2008, the Bush USDA all but stopped tracking pesticide use. It was supposedly for budgetary reasons — but it is fishy that the last year of USDA data (2006) more or less coincides with widespread adoption of Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready crops.”

Fishy indeed. And yet USDA data is one of very few sources scientists have for studying genetically modified crops. On Grist, Laskawy refers to a 2009 New York Times article that reported some of the ways in which the industry obstructs independent research:

Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of scientists.

[W]hile university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say.

Is Monsanto expected to lay down its arms and concede that, as Benbrook’s study suggests, GMO technology has not reduced but has rather increased pesticide use? Not in the least. Yet, even if it did, it would hardly register as a loss for the agribusiness giant. In the study’s conclusion, Benbrook writes:

A majority of American soybean, maize, and cotton farmers are either on or perilously close to a costly herbicide and insecticide treadmill. Farmers lack options and may soon be advised, out of necessity, to purchase HR crop cultivars resistant to multiple active ingredients and to treat Bt corn with once-displaced corn insecticides. The seed-pesticide industry is enjoying record sales and profits, and the spread of resistant weeds and insects opens up new profit opportunities in the context of the seed industry’s current business model.

It’s Monsanto’s world, and it’s hard to avoid living in it. The biotech industry controls the seeds, the technology, the data, the research and a lot of America’s farmland and food supply. But that’s where initiatives like California’s Prop 37 come in. If it passes this November, consumers can finally choose whether they want to be party to a business built on unethical exploitation.

Related Stories:

Monsanto Loses to a Tiny Foe: Corn Rootworm

8 Reasons Not To Trust Monsanto With Your Food [Infographic]

The David Vs. Goliath Battle of GMO Labeling

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Andria Bronson
Andria Bronson2 years ago

This company is evil---their idea is simple: poison the consumer then sell them a long term cure. Brilliant but ethically reprehensible & should be illegal.

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey3 years ago

I got my mail ballot yesterday, and voted today. Will mail off tomorrow. Yes on 37 and all Democratic Party seats in Washington.

rene davis
rene davis3 years ago


Duane B.
.3 years ago

Never believe the fox when discussing chickens.

Seda A.
Seda A.3 years ago


Sue H.
Sue H.3 years ago

Who, in their right mind, would believe Monsanto. ? They just want to rule the world and are not at all concerned with the consequences of their actions.

Arild Warud
Arild Warud3 years ago


Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola3 years ago

Thank you for the interesting article.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams3 years ago


Mit Wes
Mit Wes3 years ago

@Dorothy N.

First, but minor, I'm Mit W. Mitt is that whip-flopping guy running for president.

Second, The organic farmers spray Bt bacteria onto their crops, not the endotoxin protein themselves. Some will inevitably find their way into some of the produce through cracks, fissures, etc and survive until they are eaten.

Third, the heart of my beef and moo joke, if all that you wrote is true, then it must also be true that any gene from any food we eat can and does transfer to e-coli. After all, the food, bacteria and even the genes themselves cannot distinguish which are GM and which are not. All manner of gene transfering would have to be occurring inside us ! Therefore, eaters of organic food would be exposed to the same gene transfering Bt risks as eaters of bt corn. Perhaps more so because HGT occurs fairly frequently between bacteria and not between complex organisms. The genes producing the endotoxin protein in BT corn, along with all the other genes of the corn (except mitachondrian genes) are locked away inside eukaryotic nuclei, whereas bacterial DNA don't have well defined nuclei.

Fourth, Endotoxin is not toxic to humans. Just because something's toxic to one organism does not mean it's toxic to others. Indeed, there are innumerable examples in nature where one species poison is another species food. Got chocolate ?