New study on pesticide use and GMOs

Some environmental extremists discount agricultural research done by universities, because they receive funding from Big Ag and therefore their researchers can’t be trusted. So this news report of a recent study by one of my Washington State University colleagues is doubly important: it dispells this baseless assertion and it provides some significant – and troubling – information about pesticide use and GMO crops.

Briefly, the article links an increased use of herbicides as a result of increased use of GMOs such as Roundup-ready crops. Weeds build up resistance to herbicides over time, meaning that Roundup becomes less useful as a weed killer and farmers have to turn to more toxic substitutes like 2,4-D to control weeds.

Dr. Benbrooks’s results, published in a peer-reviewed journal, are contested by the chemical industry, and other scientists question the seriousness of the problem. But next time you hear someone malign university scientists as being in Monsanto’s back pocket, please refer them to this post.

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

12 thoughts on “New study on pesticide use and GMOs”

  1. Scientists and Researchers are like another other group in or from whatever circle. There are good and bad apples in all. I’m definitely not one to blindly follow any group or cause. But I do know that Big Ag does pressure and withhold funding if certain conditions are not met and that is a FACT. I actually wrote a post on one such example on my blog. It dealt with my former Ag Professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo named Robert Rutherford. Harris Beef with is an Industrial Beef giant in the San Joaquin Valley and owns that 120,000 head of beef Feedlot in Coalinga on I-5 where you have to practically wear a gas mask just to drive past this Food Inc Factory, they threatened to withhold several hundreds of thousands of dollars to the college if Mr Rutherford wasn’t fired for running a course he helped created called “Issues in Animal Agriculture”. The course dealt with sustainable Agriculture and the problems much of the industrialization of it has created as far as sustainability. I can’t explain it all here, but this on happen a year or so ago. Rob wrote me and said he voluntarily stepped down, but we all know how that goes. I don’t like a lot of the crazed extreme Eco Causes as I can see many of them and their followers run on more emotion than fact. Here’s the link and feel free to delete it if moderation feels the need. It’s just a common modern day example.

  2. Kevin, you’ve had some great comments on several of our posts, and I value your input. But there’s a significant error in your last post.
    It’s true that in 2010 Harris Beef pressured CPSLO to have Mr. Rutherford removed from teaching the course, and Mr. Rutherford did step down as course
    instructor. But he was NOT fired. He’s still there – you can see his bio here:
    Here’s a short article regarding the situtation from California Watch:

  3. As with many news articles, there is not enough information to judge the prof’s assumptions, so I will attempt to read the actual study. But as a farm family using Roundup-ready and Bt technology on over 1000 acres of corn and soybeans per year, I can tell you it has reduced our insecticide use greatly. While we use a fair amount of Roundup, since it is not a residual herbicide and weeds continue to germinate, I believe our quantity of herbicide used is down and I know we are not using some products that had more safety issues to us as applicators and to the crop plants. But, are we talking about fewer lbs of active ingredient, or what measure? Some products are effective at rates of an ounce or two per acre instead of a quart or two of Roundup, but that doesn’t mean they are safer or less expensive, etc.

  4. Jennie, as the now-linked article will show you, insecticide use has gone down with the advent of Bt technology. It’s resistance to glyphosate that’s been evolving in weed populations, creating Roundup-resistant weeds and encouraging farmers to increase their use of potent herbicides.

  5. Linda, I didn’t say he was fired. If you read my blog post on my favourite instructors who made a difference in my life, you see I merely said Harris Beef wanted him fired or removed. He emailed me and said he voluntarily stepped down from the course he helped start. He still teaches at Cal Poly. Again I said they (Harris Beef) wanted him fired, but he wasn’t fired. I referenced numerous articles in my post. One of them has this quote from the local paper: “Dependence on such funding as that of Harris Ranch Beef Company deters training in sustainable practices, in favor of teaching antiquated industrial agriculture methods. Animal Science Department professor Rob Rutherford used the word sustainability and Harris Ranch Beef Company called for his firing.” I ask Rob about that in an email and he said it would have never come to firing no matter what David E. Wood demanded. David Wood and Harris Ranch were also upset by some comments he made about water being funneled over to the west end of the valley. But firing reference was made, but I never said he was fired. It’s like my comment a while back on Seed germination and container development design for taprooted trees from Desert plants in the pea family. I never said all plants have taproots. Maybe it’s this forum comments layout and no paragraphs. I guess things get lost.

  6. Kevin, you’re right, you didn’t say he was fired. But the way your comment read, that’s what it sounded like – that instead of being fired he offered to step down. But from my reading of the story Harris Ranch wanted him “removed from teaching” the course. That’s not the same as demanding that he be fired.

  7. That’s why I said there is to much to relate here on the subject and posted the link to what I wrote. There are actually several articles that actually deal with the words “wanting/ed him fired”, one source with a number of articles is the schools Mustang newspaper and all the comments from the students on the subject. At this point I don’t want to get lost in all of this is as it is irrelevant as I wanted to point out that Big Ag does often times (not always, but often) demand something in return from it’s contributions and funding for which many times they want something in return. Scientific research can be shackled by the same imperfections as politics and politics is often times hard to distance from Universities. On the other hand there are researchers who are against GMOs like those studies out of Cornell University which showed a link to GM Corm pollen and death of Monarch Butterfly caterpillers. Even the pollen contact with water killing damsel fly nymphs. The point is there are a lot of scientists against some of these companies like Monsanto and Monsanto takes issue with them as well. That was my point, i didn’t mean for this to get lost on some words/terms in an article. Again I get lost in this comments software. You told me before about some line of code used to make paragraphs, but I’ve forgotten it. LOL Thanks.

  8. One of the quotes in your reference from Environmental Sciences Europe link says this – “Contrary to often-repeated claims that today’s genetically-engineered crops have, and are
    reducing pesticide use, the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed
    management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of
    herbicides applied.” I actually love that quote in the conclusion, it reminds me of the P.R. about the coming of the computer age a couple of decades ago where Computers were going to save forest as a result of less paper use. Yeeeeaah! We all know how that turned out. They also make some good points on the BT toxins being included as a pesticide which is even more potent in GMOs that those non-GMOs sprayed with BTs which are only on the surface, where GMO BT Soy or Corn is loaded with it inside every cell of the plant, not just surface. The Toxin is actually more potent.

  9. I have now studied the study and as I guessed, the fact that it takes more pounds of Roundup per acre to control weeds than of newer herbicides accounts for the claim of increased pesticide use. Total lbs went down in the early years as older herbicides were displaced and then up again as more applications were required per year and as the alternative very low dose but expensive herbicides became the standard of comparison. The authors admit “In light of its generally favorable environmental and toxicological properties, especially compared to some of the herbicides displaced by glyphosate, the dramatic increase in glyphosate use has likely not markedly increased human health risks.”

    Likewise, when the authors decide that all the Bt produced inside transgenic plants should count as product applied, in some cases raising the lbs of insecticide per acre above the rate in lbs applied to non-transgenic crops, little attention is given to the fact that Bt is such a benign pesticide compared to the alternatives.

    In other words, modified seed has enabled farmers, who were previously already on a slow “pesticide treadmill” to use very effective, relatively innocuous and inexpensive products very widely and successfully for a remarkable interval of years. A smaller proportion of food was lost to weeds and insects than any time in history.

    Now the treadmill is beginning to speed up again and farmers will have to rely less on Roundup and Bt, adding other techniques and products in order to deal with resistant weeds and insects. Those who abandoned tillage and relied exclusively on Roundup for weed control are having to spend more effort and money for equipment and fuel as well as learning new combinations of products to combat the different mix of problem
    s. Are they worse off, or are consumers? Food is going to cost more, but probably not more than it would have without the technology.

  10. I’m not always attacked to something based on emotion alone. In fact i find many of the people who follow environmental movements or ecological causes often run with emotion alone and don’t often bother with education. I don’t belong to any group or cause, those I follow the News. There are some out there in the Ban GMOs crusade who are almost evangelical-like. One that stands out in contrast that I have seen ans speaks on a subject close to my interests in soil is Dr Don Huber PhD. Here is a good clip on which runs little over an hour that is interesting. –

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