Brave New World

Saturday, August 18th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant Beets now for fall harvest. They will have a deeper red color than beets planted for spring harvest, and tend to have higher sugar levels too.
    • Fall vegetables can be planted now for a fall harvest of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard and lettuce.
    • Take house plants outside and wash down dusty leaves. Let them dry in the shade before bringing them back inside.
    • When lily flowers fade, remove the flowers but don’t cut back the stems until leaves have yellowed in the fall.
    • Feed annual blooming plants and hanging baskets every two weeks for prolific bloom. Keep dead flowers pinched off.

Brave New World

Almost overnight, genetically engineered (GE) crops have profoundly changed agriculture in the U.S. Leading the way have been corn, soybean, and cotton crops resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup®). As a result, traditional farming and IPM (Integrated Pest Management) methods have been tossed aside and replaced with a simplistic solution.

Seeds are drilled into the soil without cultivation. When weeds appear, fields and crops are sprayed with glyphosate, usually by aerial application. Repeated applications are needed, and glyphosate resistant (GR) crops are often grown in the same field, year after year.

Glyphosate is systemically absorbed by the crop, and it appears in the food sold for consumption. Other GE changes include crops that grow their own pesticide. Genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuiringiensis (BT) are inserted into plant genomes. Each plant cell produces insecticidal proteins and these insecticides are incorporated into the food. These are called BT crops.

Genetically engineered foods are not labeled, despite thee fact that 90% of Americans support labeling. This issue will be on the November ballot in California as Prop. 37, which would require foods to be labeled if they contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Consumers are exposed to these new genetic creations and their systemic pesticides without their knowledge. The effects of longterm, widespread exposure to these products have not been fully investigated, and most of the studies supporting their safety have been produced by industry.

Overall, GE crops have caused a large pesticide increase. Though BT crops have led to less applied insecticide, GR crops need large amounts of glyphosate. Roundup Ready® GR crops were introduced in 1996, and cumulative pesticide use over 16 years had increased by about 400 million pounds. These production systems are not sustainable, but agribusiness has bet America’s future on GE crops, in exchange for large, short-term corporate profits.

GE crops are not sustainable because farmers rely on larger amounts of fewer pesticides. Weeds and pest insects then become resistant, and resistance increases pesticide applications. GR crops actually reduced herbicide applications over the first three years after their introduction. But rapid emergence of resistant weeds has caused large glyphosate increases each year.

Repeated use of the same pesticides is leading to their buildup in soil and contamination of water and air. GE crops have caused destruction of habitat for the monarch butterfly and other environmental problems. Resistance to BT and invasion of secondary pests have led to systemic seed treatments with other pesticides that have toxic effects on bees. More than 45% of U.S. cropland is now treated with systemic chemical pesticides and use is increasing every year.

There are many issues surrounding GE crops including food safety, glyphosate resistant weeds, BT resistant insects, and disappearance of traditional non-GE seeds. If agribusiness continues to overlook safety and environmental issues, the outlook is not good. Support organic products and vote for Proposition 37 in November.

[much of this article was borrowed with permission from William Quarles, “Brave New World – Systemic Pesticides and Genetically Engineered Crops,” The IPM Practitioner (July 2012) 33:3/4]