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Approval of New Chemical-Resistant GMOs Likely to Prompt Pesticide Escalation

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page, Genetic Engineering page, and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

A decade and a half after farmers began planting the first genetically engineered (GE) crops, the future is clear. The scientists who pioneered genetic engineering thought of themselves as environmentalists, creating products that could reduce pesticide use. Instead, they have simply perpetuated the same "pesticide treadmill" as their pesticide-peddling counterparts resulting in the application of a greater volume of ever more toxic pesticides.

The "pesticide treadmill" occurs when insects "become resistant to the effects of pesticides, requiring farms to adopt new and more potent poisons, to which pests eventually become resistant." DDT was greeted as a war hero when it was used to combat malarial mosquitoes in World War II, but only a few years after it was introduced in agriculture, the pests evolved resistance. Farmers needed a new pesticide, perhaps a more toxic pesticide. For decades that followed, chemical companies introduced pesticide after pesticide, so farmers had no shortage of poisons. If one fails, use another. Never mind the myriad of other options available to prevent or combat pest problems, like attracting or releasing beneficial organisms that eat the pests or simply fostering healthy soil so your plants are healthy enough to defend themselves.

GMOs -- genetically modified organisms -- have now gone down the same path. In the early years of genetic engineering, biotech companies tried creating a number of products with different traits, like a tomato that stays ripe or a variety of canola that produced a different kind of oil. But only two types of GMOs really took off commercially -- Roundup Ready crops and Bt crops. Roundup Ready crops are engineered so they can survive being sprayed by glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. A farmer can spray an entire field with Roundup herbicide, killing only the weeds. Bt crops produce an insecticidal protein derived from a naturally occurring soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), in every cell of the plant. Biotech giants like Monsanto create, patent, and sell the seeds for these two types of GMOs.
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