Warning on bitter GM Harvest (5/12/2005)

The points made at the end of this article by Dr Ian Edwards, a spokesman for the biotech industry lobby group AusBiotech, are totally misleading.

Edward says, "To blame GM crops for weed resistance has no basis in science."

He should try telling that to Stephen Powles, a world-leading expert on weed resistance who directs the Western Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (WAHRI) at the University of Western Australia. Powles has been warning for years that, "Farmers are planting too many Roundup Ready crops".

Powles was recently quoted as saying, "The massive adoption of Roundup Ready across vast slices of the United States - along with the persistent usage of glyphosate [the active ingredient in Roundup] - is a very strong selection pressure. Increasingly, U.S. weeds are surviving glyphosate. And a weed that can survive glyphosate is in herbicide heaven. Its competitors are killed while it can grow and reproduce. This is slowly but surely, and inexorably, occurring."

Powles' warning of too much reliance on Roundup Ready crops has been echoed by others. Fort Baldwin, the veteran Arkansas weed specialist, says, "Very shortly, I think, the impact of herbicide resistance is going to be huge."

And this problem is not incidental to GM crops. GM herbicide resistant crops constitute about 80% of all the GM crops being grown worldwide with RR traits accounting for the bulk of Monsato's GM seeds.

And when Edwards claims that farmers could always change the type of herbicide they use to avoid problems, this again is misleading. They could only change away from Roundup, for example, by not growing Roundup Ready crops!

And even if farmers resorted to using other chemicals in addition to Roundup in order to keep using Roundup Ready crops, they would end up with increased costs as well as losing the convenience of using a single herbicide - the very thing that attracted many farmers to Roundup Ready crops in the first place.

Edwards also tries to blame farmers themselves for weed resistance, saying it is because farmers misused or over-used the chemicals. But these problems have been arising even where farmers have carefully followed the instructions they have been given, as Larry Steckel, a Tennessee Extension weed scientist, recently noted when Roundup-tolerant Palmer pigweed was found in different parts of west Tennessee:

"To my knowledge, correct, full-label rates were used. I'm very familiar with the farmers involved. They're very good at growing crops and don't cut rates. I'm confident this wasn't human error."

The real root of the problem is that the biotech industry has been hyping GM herbicide resistant crops for all they are worth without alerting farmers to the downside.

Edwards' response to Dr Benbrook is a good example of what happens when someone does draw attention to the problems. Prakash's AgBioView campaign has also been conducting a hate campaign against Dr Benbrook.

Warning on bitter GM harvest
By Wendy Frew Environment Reporter
SiDecember 6, 2005

GENETICALLY modified crops have failed to deliver the economic benefits promised to US farmers and could pose similar problems if adopted in Australia, a former US government bureaucrat has warned.

Australia could lose agricultural export dollars, and farmers could find themselves using more herbicides to control weeds and being sued by other farmers for crop contamination if they chose to grow genetically engineered crops, said Charles Benbrook, who worked as an agricultural adviser to the Carter, Reagan and Clinton administrations.

Dr Benbrook is touring Australia to warn government ministers and farmers about what he believes are the problems with the first decade of genetically modified crops in the US. His tour is sponsored by GeneEthics, a group campaigning against the release of genetically modified contaminated material.

"Across the south-eastern US, where soybean and cotton farmers have relied almost exclusively on [genetic engineering] technology for several years, the system is on the brink of collapse, the volume of herbicides used is setting new records and farmers' profit margins are shrinking," he said.

Most genetically modified crops are designed so farmers can spray their fields with herbicide, killing weeds but not the crop.

Dr Benbrook said the widespread use of genetically modified crops initially led to a drop in the herbicides US farmers used. But farmers with such crops were now using more weed chemicals than were conventional farmers.

"The increase is getting bigger as weeds become more resistant. It has definitely not been an economic boon for farmers," he said, adding that resistance in some markets, such as Europe, to genetically modified products had damaged US agricultural exports.

"What I am urging agricultural leaders and politicians to do is learn from the lessons in the US."

But Dr Ian Edwards, a spokesman for the biotechnology industry body AusBiotech, accused Dr Benbrook of "cherry picking" his statistics to suit his argument. "To blame GM crops for weed resistance has no basis in science."

Weed resistance to herbicides had developed because farmers misused or over-used the chemicals, he said.

He said farmers could always change the type of herbicide they used to avoid problems, although he conceded there was a chance weeds would eventually become resistant to the new herbicide.

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive