Biotechnology’s Impact on Ag

October 27, 2009

By Tyne Morgan

Tyne preparing for her video shoot during harvest in Missouri.

Tyne preparing for her video shoot during harvest in Missouri.


I remember as a little girl driving to Grandma’s house one weekend and seeing some of my family members out of the window working in the field. I remember specifically asking my mother what they were doing, and she simply told me pulling weeds out of soybeans. She also told us how she used to do that, as well.

Driving to Grandma’s house today, I don’t see a single person pulling weeds out of their soybean fields. Why? Because the Roundup Ready technology has made it possible to have soybean fields “clean” of weeds.


In talking with a farmer during my Missouri harvest update, I asked him how biotechnology (GMO) had impacted him. He spoke of similar stories. He also told me how sometimes he’ll joke with his two girls about going out and hoeing weeds by hand. Of course, they don’t understand what he’s talking about because they’ve never had to do so, as many other people my age and younger have not either.

I definitely think my generation and those younger take for granted the way management of fields has changed for the better.

In this harvest update, not only will you see how far behind Missouri farmers are this year and their frustration with Mother Nature, but you’ll hear how their farming operations have changed thanks to the introduction of biotechnology.

While I’m on this topic, I’d like to offer an open invitation. The other day we received a comment on one of my videos from an organic farmer. We couldn’t post the comment because of the language used, but she told me to come out to a “real farm” as she called it, and she was referring to an organic farm on the East Coast. I am heading to Pennsylvania and New York in a couple weeks and would be more than happy to visit an organic farmer. The only problem is that as soon as I say I’m working for Monsanto, usually organic farmers shut me out. So, if you’re reading this post and know of an organic farmer I can talk to, please let me know. I am definitely not opposed to visiting all types of farmers across the U.S.

You can check out Tyne’s Missouri  harvest update on

For more photos of Tyne’s trip, check out  the slideshow on Flickr

27 Responses to “Biotechnology’s Impact on Ag”

  1. Joe Harrington Says:

    You state: “Because the Roundup Ready technology has made it possible to have soybean fields “clean” of weeds.”

    Don’t you mean “Roundup Ready technology has made it possible to have soybean fields “clean” of weeds except for those weeds that have developed resistance to roundup, and then you’re going to have to spend more money on atrazine until the EPA bans that, and then we’re going to be scrambling for the next fix because we made you overuse a darn good herbicide (roundup) so we could make more money”???

    It would be one thing if you just made good products for farmers – to bad you pander to your share prices so much you are going to oversell your best product into oblivion.

  2. Ewan Ross Says:

    Joe – what’s the alternative? Selling only to a select few? Not releasing a product at all because its longevity may not be infinite? Not utilizing a good product because it is good seems rather counterintuitive – with the alternative to roundup use being the spending more money on atrazine anyway… so even if roundup ready has a limited life span, during that span it saves time and money which otherwise would never have been saved.

    Resistance management techniques are available, and work. While in some areas roundup resistant weeds are an issue, in the vast majority of RR applicable acreage – the problem doesnt exist. And because farmers utilize resistance management techniques these problems may not raise there heads.

  3. Joe Harrington Says:

    Not rotating from RR corn to RR soybeans would be a nice management practice but farmers don’t do it. I guess we should blame the foolish farmers and not the companies pushing it. I just think we’ve gotten a bit too fearful of doing a little bit of cultivation or even hand weeding. I mean who of us over 40 didn’t go out to a bean field with a machete and hack weeds when we were 11 or 12? Did that really hurt us as kids? Instead farm kids today sit and myspace or whatever. I’m all for using herbicide, but I hate the tone of this article – like hand weeding was some godawful torture. Slick and clean farming feels like a slick and clean money sales pitch. I guess what do I expect reading this site which is just slick and clean PR. Foolish farmer. I’ll go back to farmer blogs where people don’t believe in silver bullets. I have neighbors who are organic farmers and there not left wing nutjobs. I don’t want to farm like them, but they do a darn good job with field crops and I admit I have learned a bit from them. It’s not black and white. No technology is going to save us from work – and if it does what will that do to our cultural and moral fiber. Let a kid walk a bean field and they’ll learn why they don’t want to be a day laborer at the very least!!!

  4. Mica Says:

    Joe – Thanks for leaving your comments. Some of what you said could be applied for lots of technologies we have today. I was just lamenting the idea the other day that my one-year-old will probably never know what a landline phone looks like. Or what it meant to handwrite a letter, stick it in the mail and wait for a reply. Lots of technologies that are changing our lives may mean a loss of important skills or lessons learned.

    I’m not sure what the answer is but appreciate your perspective.

  5. Ewan Ross Says:

    Joe – I dont think that anyone need be blamed for anything. On the majority of acreage roundup resistance isn’t a problem. In areas that it is a problem – well, if the weeds can’t be dealt with any other way, then all roundup has done is buy that land some more time, if there is another way (atrazine for instance) – then this is part and parcel of farming – picking the right solutions for the problems you have.

    I dont think farmers (who utilize the technology) have become fearful of cultivation – they’ve chosen a method which simply allows them to do things a little more easily. Perhaps to some this may seem lazy, or somehow being a traitor to what farming ‘really’ is (or should be in their idealized worldview) – but this is simply an aspect of a technologically advancing world – everyone is ‘guilty’ of this to some degree or another – When I want a steak I don’t go find some flint, knap off a nice sharp piece, attach it to a stick and get some friends and go find a herd of animals. If I want to get in touch with friends or family I generally dont write a letter, or send a telegram (or send smoke signals for that matter). I dont get my water from a nearby stream, or even a well. Etc etc.

    I’d argue that to a large extent saving ourselves from work is what has brought us where we are today (both the good, and the bad – I fully agree that nothing is black and white (other than perhaps the fact that Holliday should really have caught that ball…)) and that by saving ourselves from some work it generally allows us to get more done – I dont see why this should not apply to farmers as much as to everyone else – I’d also argue that as technology removes the absolute need for certain skills then it is a stretch to say we’re losing ‘important skills’ – they cease to be important, new skills come to the fore – for tens of thousands of years the ability to shape flint was probably one of the most important skills available, short of the complete disappearance of not only most of the human race, but also all of our current artifacts, I dont see that this skill will ever be regarded as important again (well unless you end up lost in the wilderness… but that’s a long shot) – interesting? Sure? Cool? I’d say so (I’m willing to bet millions wouldnt however) Important? Not so much (other than perhaps for gaining an understanding of ancestoral humans – that’s where the cool part comes in though)

    Do we really require pointless manual labor to teach us life lessons? There really isn’t anything else that farm kids could be doing to learn those self same lessons? I grew up in the city, with probably half a mile of concrete in every direction before hitting even a public park (where if you tore up anything more significant than a little bit of grass you were in trouble) – I’d like to think I grew up somewhat on the right side of moral bankrupcy, although again, I’m sure millions would disagree… I do work at Monsanto after all…

  6. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan, I don’t think we require pointless labor to teach us life lessons. The main point to me is that technological “advances” or inventions that cause disease and environmental harm may not actually be advantageous in the long run to all of the stakeholders–consumers and farmers alike. Although, Monsanto has been reaping in the benefits, for sure!

  7. Ewan Ross Says:

    It’s a jolly good thing then that the technological advance under discussion reduces environmental harm and has absolutely no causal link to any disease!

  8. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Based on research that has been discussed elsewhere on this blog, Roundup’s safety, and that of genetically engineered crops, is certainly debatable.

    According to a recent ABC news article, more than a million acres of soybeans and cotton are being choked out this year by pigweed. Farmers may actually have to harvest by hand. That seems like something of a technological setback to a time before harvesting machines. Of course, additional pesticide use–such as adding more atrazine or 2 4 D or whatever to the arsenal–increases farmers’ costs (hundreds of thousands of dollars for one farmer according to the article), consumers’ costs, and takes a greater toll on the health of everything in the environment, including farmer and consumer who has to eat that toxic cocktail–most of which have never been tested in conjunction by EPA. Everything suffers, except perhaps for pigweed and Monsanto!

  9. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Here is a link to my information source for the comment above in case you need it:

    “Growers discovered that some broadleaf weeds have developed a resistance to glyphosate, a key chemical that Monsanto Co. first patented and used in Roundup. BASF says Kixor herbicide will attack those resistant weeds.

    “A Monsanto spokeswoman declined immediate comment”
    Even though this may be bad news for Monsanto, it’s still bad for all of us. I wonder what the adverse effects of Kixor will be?

  10. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – assuming that the technology had never been introduced (RR) how exactly would the fields infested with roundup resistant weeds be different?

    The roundup resistance did not make these weeds worse – other than for users of roundup. If the weeds were otherwise unbeatable… then use of roundup simply delayed the infestation of the land. The weeds would not have been controllable with roundup, not in any sort of viable way, as if the crops are not roundup resistant then roundup will kill all the plants on the land.

    To hammer home the point – before the utilization of roundup weeds were still a problem, and were still controlled by chemicals for the most part. There was not a magical time prior to roundup where weeds required no management. There was no magic wand to wave over the crops prior to introduction of roundup ready crops, roundup did not remove indefinitely any other control method.

    The evolution of roundup tolerance in some weeds *at worst* means that roundup ready crops will not be viable in these areas – and this is probably a vast overexaggeration, in combination with other herbicides RR can most likely still be utilized and will still lead to a lower level of useage of other herbicides than in situations where roundup is not utilized at all (making the safe assumption that weeds will have to be controlled by some method)

    I’m assuming that the downside of roundup in this instance is that it allowed cultivation of these areas for a longer time/with less toxic chemicals during this time (as without roundup the only control method would have been the chemicals mentioned) – which I’m sure you’d agree doesnt actually appear to be a downside in any way, shape or form.

  11. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Well, I do disagree with you, Ewan. I would say the use of Roundup has made things worse by adding yet more toxins to the environment, along with those already in use as pesticides. Anyone can access NASS statistics on pesticide usage from 1990 to the last year for which records are available, usually around 2004-2006. You can search by commodity like corn or soy:

    From what I have read, including on your own site, when a farmer utilizes the Roundup Ready 2 corn system, they use more acetalchlor and slightly less atrazine than they did before the implementation of Roundup Ready corn, plus the additonal herbicide, Roundup! This is the application rate I have found:

    “The “Roundup Ready

    Corn 2” program is composed of three steps –

    1.“Spray [with Harness Xtra] for early weed control” prior to planting;

    2.“Plant RR Corn 2”; and

    3.“Spray Roundup Herbicide” during the growing season.

    Harness Xtra is a Monsanto herbicide mixture developed specifically for RR

    corn that contains its proprietary herbicide acetochlor, as well as atrazine. This

    product targets early season and residual grass control and is applied at a recommended

    rate of 1.8 to 2.3 quarts per acre, depending on soil type. Rates as high

    as 2.7 quarts are recommended in the event of heavy weed infestation. Assuming

    an average application rate of 2 quarts per acre, just modestly above the

    minimum label rate, an application of Harness Xtra, followed during the season

    with a single application of glyphosate, results in the following rates of herbicide

    application per acre –

    · Acetochlor – 2.15 pounds

    · Atrazine – 0.85 pounds

    · Glyphosate – 0.7 pound

    · Total program – 3.7 pounds”

    The rate of atrazine application per pound for corn in 1994 was 1.10 lb per acre, in 2005 it was 1.08–and the lbs per year went from 2,325,000 in 1990 to 3,020,600 lbs in 2005. Acetolchlor appears to be used first in 1994 on corn, 1.75 pounds per acre, and was at 1.63 lbs in 2005. Per year, in 1994 822,900 lbs of acetochlor were used, in 2005 2,280,000 pounds. Ready 2 Corn will use 2.15 pounds per acre? It doesn’t look like a decrease. Plus all of the glyphosate! Not too mention, we don’t even know what the synergistic effects of these pesticides are in nature and humans.

    Here are farmer testimonials from your own site:

    And then you have dicamba/glufosinate resistant crops coming down your pipeline.

    How will that increase dicamba usage?
    How safe is dicamba?

    “Between 2004 and 2007 over 40 field-test releases of Dicamba resistant corn, cotton or soybean were approved in the United States; all undertaken by Monsanto Corporation, except for one test each from the University of Kansas and BASF Corporation.

    The toxicity of the Dicamba herbicide is worth reviewing. Both pure Dicamba and Banvel proved to increase sister-chromatid exchange in human lymphocytes. The study concluded that Dicamba is a DNA damage agent and potentially hazardous to human [12]. Dicamba proved genotoxic in mutation tests using transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana plants [13]. Dicamba was found to be a peroxisome proliferator in rats, an activity associated with liver cancer in rodents [14]. Dicamba is certainly not safe or environmentally friendly, and its increased deployment must be resisted.

    Environmental impact studies do not appear to be available for the numerous field tests releases of Dicamba resistant GM crops or GM crops with stacked traits, and the locations of the tests are withheld from those who may be exposed.

    Predictably, the overuse of herbicides in GM crops has resulted in the GM crops becoming obsolete as weeds become herbicide resistant. Introducing GM crops resistant to an old polluting phenoxy herbicide seems like a measure of sheer desperation, turning an environmental disaster into a real catastrophe.
    The only way to deal with the problem of herbicide resistant weeds and volunteers is to return to sustainable, organic agriculture, free of polluting herbicides.”

  12. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Let’s not forget the amount of glyphosate that has been used on corn. According to NASS, in 1991, 153,500 pounds were used. By 2005, that number was 1,208,800 pounds were used

  13. Deborah Rubin Says:

    More on the evolution of roundup resistance, from Monsanto:
    Page 10: There are 20 weeds resistant to dicamba and 8 resistant to glyphosate with no resistant weeds in common. Will you be advising farmers to spray with glyphosate and dicamba to be sure to get all of the weeds? Atrazine and Acetochlor, too?

  14. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – I’m not sure what information we’re supposed to glean from the pounds of roundup utilized over time.

    Roundup ready corn was introduced in 1998. It therefore actually surprises me that the amount of glyphosate used pre 1998 was as high as it is (I’m guessing edge of field use and possibly post season use? I’m sure a seasoned farmer could explain the useage). However the two dates really dont tell us anything unexpected, one would expect a massive increase in glyphosate use in any crop after it is engineered to be tolerant – useage before this point would kill the plant.

    A more pertinent question would be what quantity of other herbicides would have been used if glyphosate was not, and what is the environmental/health impact of these herbicides as compared to glyphosate.

    Another question may be what would yields have looked like in these fields had a) no herbicide been used b) alternate herbicides been used – and to follow up what would be the time cost to farmers for each of these methods and the effects on food pricing during this period with each of these methods.

    On the dicamba/glyphosate plants – I would assume (and this is by no means an official answer, it is purely based on my own personal speculation, so may well be utterly wrong) that once you have stacked resistances the strategy would be to utilize multiple modes of action within a single season – I would guess, in a system which required say 2-3 sprays of roundup, that you’d replace a roundup spray with a dicamba thus effectively making it more difficult for plants to evolve resistance to either system (just as stacked IR traits make it harder to evolve resistance) – another possible strategy would be to offer the capacity to spray a field with either dicamba, or roundup and then, should resistant weeds remain in the field utilize the other herbicide to kill them.

    The potential is I guess to remove the requirement for atrazine use (if I remember correctly corn is naturally resistant to atrazine hence its utility in side by side use with roundup in preventing roundup resistant weeds) – not sure on the numbers right at this moment, but assuming dicamba is more environmentally friendly than atrazine, or the other alternatives to use in conjunction with roundup, this should be seen as a good thing.

  15. Ewan Ross Says:

    Just to clarify the above response – only the shorter two posts by Deborah had appeared, which is why it appears that I completely ignored the longer post!

  16. Ewan Ross Says:

    Ok in response to the longer post –

    On overall herbicide useage as a result of utilizing RR corn – the NASS certainly gives some interesting stats, I just wish you could compile an ‘all chemicals’ ‘all corn’ historical list, I have neither the time nor the patience to do so – I get the feeling that focusing only on the chemicals you mention has to be missing something – at present however I cant figure out exactly what (with a list of herbicides that long… it could take some time – I’m having teeth pulled soon so maybe that’s something to do while recovering under the effect of painkillers)

    Looking at recent scientific literature however…

    shows (in table 5) the reductions in pesticide use on various crops – corn isn’t exactly impressive, with an approximate -5% environmental impact, although soybeans (which is what the initial discussion was around) come in at an impressive -20%, and canola even higher at -24%


    (admittedly a partisan source – the figures are however supported by peer reviewed work)
    “In addition to economic benefits there are also environmental benefits associated with RR® soybean, (Carneiro, 2007, Personal Communication) which have been determined by modeling. A study by Carneiro indicated that 62.7 million liters of diesel have been saved since 1997 as a result of a saving of 1.5 herbicide sprays on RR® soybean. In addition, it is estimated that 7.5 billion liters of water have been saved (through reduced herbicide sprays) plus a reduction of 160,000 tons of CO2 emissions.
    For the next 10 years, 2007/08 to 2016/17, assuming a cumulative hectarage of 262 million hectares of biotech soybean in Brazil, savings of 393.3 million liters of diesel are projected in addition to a savings of 47.2 billion liters of water and a reduction of 1 million tons of CO2 emissions.”

    There are more figures in there, but as it is a 100+ page report I think I’ll move on to something else with more graphs and less words… (it looks like an interesting read though, breaking down biotech useage and benefits by country)

    shows a little of the story in Europe – slightly contradictory data here (perhaps due to weed types in Europe?) with a suggestion of slightly increased herbicide useage in soy, and reduced on beets – I can only see the abstract from home so cant comment on what exactly is increased (total lbs of active ingredient, or some more meaningful environmental comparison) – it appears that the article also concludes that the environmental impacts are similar, or reduced, to conventionally produced crops.

    a recent review states that

    “In 2004, HT canola, cotton, maize, and soybean, as well as Bt cotton and maize, were studied; reductions in herbicide active ingredient (AI) were 25 to 33% (259).”

    and follows to state that pesticide use decreased alongside adoption of IR and HT corn although slight increases were found for soybeans consistent with a shift to less environmentally persistent herbicides (based on NASS statistics) and then goes on to look at environmental impact changes across crops (down in all cases compared to conventional)

    point 7 in the summary says it well:-

    “On the basis of the bulk of data from field tests and farm surveys, pesticide use for GE
    crop adopters is lower than for conventional variety users. More importantly, extensive
    data confirm that the environmental impact is substantially lower.”

    I’ll comment on the rest of the post at some point (assuming this thread is still open) so as to avoid having to sleep in the living room

  17. Ewan Ross Says:

    Now on to the rest of the post…

    Up front – lets bear in mind the source of the pesticide use pdf you link to – the Union of Concerned Scientists – and lets recall the particularly shoddy job done in the previous UCS report “failure to yield” (and the rather shoddy editing in the document – “glycine resistant weeds”? Really?)

    Next… the article claims no published work on crop pesticide useage other than for the first 3 years – this is now in clear contradiction of the reports I link to above (although may have been accurate at the time of publishing).

    The claim also rises that herbicides have to be sprayed more often – again contradictory to the reduced spray claim in the articles linked above, and also contradictory to actual farmer testimony:-

    Admittedly personal testimony isnt a spectacularly scientific way to look at things, but then as all the mainstream peer-reviewed science appears to be all but irrelevant in the quest for proving GE is bad I figured perhaps a different approach may be needed.

    Also to take into account is the fact that the report looks only at Lbs of herbicide used, and not the impact of each chemical – which I think anyone would agree is a pretty important distinction – I could take 500mg-1000mg of ibuprofen to attempt to treat pain and be just fine, if I used the same amount of hydrocodone I’m going to go ahead and guess I’d be pretty much dead.

    On to the isis link:-

    First – ISIS again, not the most unbiased source – a quick perusal of the website shows the same old debunked myths about GM repeated ad nauseum. The link itself involves a little bit of spin by superfluosly linking Dicamba with Agent Orange (US military personnel also served alongside agent orange in Vietnam… are they also toxins to be avoided?). And the final conclusions are pretty bizarre:-

    HT crops have become obsolete? Really? Even in areas where there are roundup resistant weeds I think this claim is pretty far fetched (only in areas where farming itself has become impossible could this statement really hold up)

    Methods of sheer desperation? Or methods of improving the armory of farmers further by enabling them to use herbicides which are approved for use to avoid issues which may come from being wholly reliant on a single herbicide -it appears that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t in this case – lambasted for single mode of action, lambasted for expanding out.

    “The only way to deal with the problem of herbicide resistant weeds and volunteers is to return to sustainable, organic agriculture, free of polluting herbicides.”

    The only way? That’s rather odd because introducing a rotation of different herbicides appears to be a pretty reasonable way to do the job. Of course we could return to “sustanable, organic agriculture, free of polluting herbicides.” so long as we also agree to pay a hefty premium on food (we all know increasing food prices could never lead to any sort of civil unrest right?) and figure out who exactly is going to do all the extra work required should organic ag spread across all ag acreage (keeping in mind how easy it is to get people to do these jobs anyway, even in the current economy)

    It’d also be nice if the citations were available, not particularly inclined to pay money or sign up to isis to read the full article, and as it clearly isnt peer reviewed I’d rather not take the statements at face value.

  18. Deborah Rubin Says:

    My pesticide quantities come from NASS, the United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service–that was clearly listed as the first citation. That is where I accessed every figure. Are they biased?

  19. Ewan Ross Says:

    More on the isis site… which I think warrants mention as it should make any claims by the site to be utterly meaningless in any debate:-

    (apologies for taking the discussion slightly off track, but that’s the level of crazy being brought into the arguement)

  20. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan, for your convenience and that of your readers, I compiled a list of some of the herbicides used on corn. You can plug them into NASS to find the usage rates. They are compiled from this source:

    You can access NASS with the link provided above or here again, for the readers’ convenience:

    Imazethapyr, imazapyr, glufosinate, 2,4-D LV Ester, 2,4-D Amine, halosulfuron, clopyralid, nicosulfuron, rimsulfuron, dicamba–this one actually decreased, but I expect it will rise again with dicamba-resistant crops coming down your pipeline–, diflufenzopyr, prosulfuron, primisulfuron, thifensulfuron, halosulfuron, formasulfuron, S-metolachlor and metolachlor, alachlor, simazine, Flumetsulam, mesotrione, bentazon, bromoxynil, carfentrazone-ethyl, pendamethalin, linuron, isoxaflutole, dimethenamid, metribuzin, paraquat–and many,many assorted combinations of the above.

  21. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan, doesn’t Monsanto provide you with ability to look up journal studies for free? Most universities do for their students and faculty–and other scientific industries do for their employees.

    You can find the studies by doing a search and then access the studies independent of ISIS. How do you know they are not peer-reviewed? I would have happily included a citation, but including more than two per post puts any comment into limbo on this blog.

    13. Filkowski J, Besplug J, Burke P, Kovalchuk I and Kovalchuk O. Genotoxicity of 2,4-D and dicamba revealed by transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana plants harboring recombination and point mutation markers. Mutat Res. 2003 Dec 9;542(1-2):23-32.

    14. Espandiari P, Thomas VA, Glauert HP, O’Brien M, Noonan D and Robertson LW. The herbicide dicamba (2-methoxy-3,6-dichlorobenzoic acid) is a peroxisome proliferator in rats. Fundam Appl Toxicol. 1995 Jun;26(1):85-90. [a link for you: ]

    15. Roy JW, Hall JC, Parkin GW, Wagner-Riddle C and Clegg BS. Seasonal leaching and biodegradation of dicamba in turfgrass. J Environ Qual. 2001 Jul-Aug;30(4):1360-70.

  22. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – Thanks for providing the links – I wrote the first of the posts from home, and dont have access to scientific journals from there – although in my defence – from the isis web link you gave the article numbers are available, but I can’t seem to find the actual citations anywhere within the article.

    Internally from Monsanto – I still cannot access the site, I’d guess because it is not a credible source of scientific information.

    Searching for the article (isis one) on google scholar using “Turning an environmental disaster into a real catastrophe” as a search parameter yields absolutely nothing.

    This, and the fact that the article is hosted only on the ISIS (with other such articles around vaccine denial, and amusingly “quantum healing” (did you realise that modern medicine fails because we dont take into account the quantum communication between molecules of our body?!!?) leads me to belive it is not a credible peer reviewed source, or indeed, a credible source at all (as a lot of government reports etc may not meet the criteria of peer reviewed, but may well be credible sources of information when taken with a healthy dose of skepticism)

    On the NASS numbers – it appears I was wrong – there are numbers for….

    Herbicides total.

    Insecticides total.

    These are more telling (although still lacking meaning when compared to environmental impact)

    1998 herbicide total on corn (year RR was introduced) – 11063000 lbs

    2005 herbicide total on corn – 8293400 lbs

    or a reduction of ~26% (on 1% more of the total acreage)

    Insecticides total gives an even more awesome picture

    from 755000 to 1369000 lbs between ’93 and ’98 – between 269000 and 561000 between ’02 and ’05

    Clearly total active ingredient quantities used on corn have decreased MASSIVELY for corn in the era of GM crops. So long as you look at ALL herbicides and ALL pesticides, rather than hand picking those that didn’t change, or went up. As it appears any study drawing these conclusions must have done, whether wittingly, or unwittingly.

    For soy the picture isn’t quite as rosy for GM crops – lbs of active ingredient are as follows:-

    in 1996 (when RR soy was released) useage was – 5052400 Lbs

    in 2005 useage was 4540400 Lbs

    which while looking significantly lower (10% ish) belies the fact that the data is pretty up and down within this period – generally lower, although with 2 years above 6000000 Lbs (possibly years when soybean acreage was higher?)

    Again it looks like on average herbicide useage in Soy is down, on a lbs of active ingredient used, although nowhere near as significantly as in corn.

    Cotton pretty much flatlines and doesnt appear to have much of a change in the years shown (2000000 – 3500000) for herbicides and appears to be cyclic for insecticides – you’d probably need infestation data to make any meaningful comparison here – as my guess is the highs are high insect years, and the lows low insect years… although again total acreage may also be an impact (and sadly the average lbs/ac isnt available for insecticide or herbicide all values)

    I think from these values however (particularly corn) that you’d agree something was being missed in looking at only a sub-set of herbicides? Would you also agree that looking at simply lbs of AI is not the best method? Without knowing the various environmental impact of the various herbicides etc it would be completely possible for a 25% reduction in quantity used to still be bad for the environment, just as it would be plausible that a 25% increase in lbs of active ingredient used to actually have a benefit environmentally.

  23. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Here is citation number 12; I listed 15 instead:

    12. Gonzalez NV, Soloneski S and Larramendy ML. Genotoxicity analysis of the phenoxy herbicide dicamba in mammalian cells in vitro. Toxicol In Vitro. 2006 Dec;20(8):1481-7

    and the link to all citations in article:

  24. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan, when I as a consumer look at biotech’s impact on ag in these first 13 years, here is how I see it: We, all of the consumers–including you at Monsanto and the farmers who grow your crops, are absorbing the known/suspected/and unknown risks inherent to genetically engineering these crops in the first place, along with the same old unacceptable risks regarding the pesticides previously used on conventional crops for decades. This does not seem like a step forward toward sustainability, but rather two steps backwards demonstrated by the returning focus on and usage of older, dangerous pesticides that GM crops were originally supposed to eliminate–coupled with the new ones. Despite biotech’s claims, these pesticides have actually been used continuously throughout these 13 years according to the NASS data, alongside their newer counterparts. Now future GM crops are being developed to better tolerate or resist some of the older, more (I don’t know?) persistent and toxic pesticides. These old toxins are actually being incorporated INTO the new system. So, this is the future of ag, the future of the environment, and the future of our health?

    I haven’t seen any data to showing that nutrient and pesticide runoff has decreased. Groundwater and surface waters continue to be contaminated by GM ag practices and ag chemical production. The soil is degraded and requires more pesticides and fertilizers to grow ever more crops–although hunger increases. Likewise in this process, the air is polluted with greenhouse gases and other noxious chemicals. It would seem to go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, toxins damage and destroy life and living systems. Destroy our environment, destroy ourselves. Eat poison, become sick. The nine billion people of the future to whom Monsanto is always referring will require and deserve all of these resources intact to feed and sustain themselves–will they realistically be able to produce more food with less natural resources? What legacy, what chance are we leaving them–a degraded amount of finite resources upon which to sustain a larger population…Oh, let me guess, genetic engineering is already working on it. The laws of nature will be suspended–along with our disbelief. And while we are at it, we might as well address the reasons why about 1 in 4 children in the US–the largest adapter of GM ag–lives in a family where food is at least sometimes sparse. Then we can extrapolate that thinking to reasons why GM crops are not the answer to world hunger.

    More specifically to your criticisms, I began by showing the figures for glyphosate, atrazine and acetochlor–the herbicides recommended in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 system to show how herbicide usage is/will be affected by this line of Monsanto’s GM crops. That was also my intention with the Dicamba-Resistant crops, as well. Dow Agrosciences is now working on it’s “exciting new family of herbicide tolerant traits” including the 2,4-D Resistant trait for “convenience, flexibility and value”–to insert into SmartStax–another step backward environmentally and health-wise, IMO. It takes a lot of gall to call that “smart!” How so? While we may differ on our opinions regarding the safety of glyphosate, perhaps even acetochlor, I doubt many among us can call atrazine or 2,4-D “safe” or “smart!” or “sustainable.” So it wasn’t so much that I was intending to mislead or “pick and choose” as that I was examining a line of pesticide usage your company assembles, sells, and supports–how your company’s pesticide management program affects agriculture and the environment and health.

    Originally, I had consulted the First Nine Years of GM Crops, not realizing that the new report, The First Thirteen Years, is available now as well and takes us to 2008, a few years beyond 2005 and deeper into the tangled relationship between GM crops, weedy resistance to herbicide–from there I digressed to environmental degradation, failing health, and mounting hunger–but perhaps I can be said to have stayed more on topic than you. The First Nine Years, and now The First Thirteen is cited because they explore some of the more subtle points we cannot discern from NASS. These reports separately analyze conventional (non-GE) crops vs GE crop pesticide usage rates. Corn, soybeans, and cotton are all considered. Rather than my listing point by point why it appears that overall pesticide usage has increased, I would ask you to refute these points and since time is waning on this commenting period, to consider doing a blog on this report in its entirety.

    The Report:

    Supplemental Tables:

    This is the main finding of the report:

    “This report explores the impact of the adoption of genetically engineered (GE) corn, soybean, and cotton on pesticide use in the United States, drawing principally on data from the United States Department of Agriculture. The most striking finding is that GE crops have been responsible for an increase of 383 million pounds of herbicide use in the U.S. over the first 13 years of commercial use of GE crops (1996-2008)…

    “Recently herbicide use on GE acres has veered sharply upward. Crop years 2007 and 2008 accounted for 46% of the increase in herbicide use over 13 years across the three

    HT crops. Herbicide use on HT crops rose a remarkable 31.4% from 2007 to 2008.”

    “GE crops reduced overall pesticide use in the first three years of commercial introduction (1996-1998) by 1.2%, 2.3%, and 2.3% per year, but increased pesticide use by 20% in 2007 and by 27% in 2008. Two major factors are driving the trend toward larger margins of difference in the pounds of herbicides used to control weeds on an acre planted to HT seeds, in comparison to conventional seeds:

    • The emergence and rapid spread of weeds resistant to glyphosate, and

    • Incremental reductions in the average application rate of herbicides applied on non-GE crop acres.” ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    I, myself, question the decrease noted in the report by the adoption of Bt crops as I believe that PIP should be counted as pesticide usage because it is an activated pesticide. I’m not sure how the totals would add up–but I firmly believe they can not and should not be discounted. Unfortunately, the totals appear to be impossible to estimate and confirm with present-day methods.

    Monsanto may be able to insert a foreign gene sequence into a previously intact genome, but even you can not come close to passing off GM as sustainable or beneficial in the big, complex scheme of things.

  25. Ewan Ross Says:


    the known risks of GM crops are… non-existant.

    The suspected risks of GM crops vary wildly depending on who you ask. I’d say negligible given proper testing, you’d say destructive to the entire planet or something similar (something at that end of the spectrum anyway). The current science ends up well towards my end of the spectrum.

    Anastasia Bodnar does a great job in summing up the 13 years report you cite as well as linking to the PG Economics rebuttal

    some salient points from the pgeconomics report reflecting both on the ’13 years’ study and the fears you raise:-

    Failure to acknowledge the environmental positives of HT crops – 9.48 billion pounds of CO2 saved by reduced spraying, increases of glyphosate and glufosinate should be set side by side with reductions in less environmentally benign herbicides such as – pendimethalin, metribuzin, fluazifop and metalochlor.

    overstating herbicide use on HT crops by 63.4 million pounds.

    Misleading use of data (the datasets are incomplete, and do not separate GM and non-GM crops)

    A weak approach (much like that seen in the 8 years report, and the failure to yield report) overestimating GM pesticide useage, and underestimating conventional pesticide useage.

    On new herbicide tolerances – again you appear to be doing comparisons in a vacuum, assuming zero herbicide use rather than some form of herbicide use – in many cases the herbicides used without the resistance will be more toxic, more persistent and more expensive than those used with the tolerances. Herbicide useage is going to remain part of mainstream agriculture for the forseeable future – I’d rather it was done using less environmentally impacting chemistries and in a manner that maximizes yield to the farmer (so that herbicide used per unit yield is kept down) – the idea that all agriculture could do away with herbicide and insecticide use is all well and good until you realize the side effects this would have – you’re currently concerned with nebulous risks and threats which are so low that no evidence of their effects has been found in the population over decades – and also note that 1 in 4 families suffer from some hunger some of the time, by massively reducing agricultural yields by removing pesticide and herbicide use entirely… how is this likely to improve? Food will become more scarce, more expensive, and the figure is likely to jump to 1/2 or 3/4 families suffering. Sounds like a great fix to me. At least they wont have some undifined minimal risk of effects from herbicides, pesticides, or inserted genes… just the very real risks of chronic hunger.

    Smartstax are smart because they offer the farmer increased flexibility and protection. They bring together multiple traits (I believe the current best is 3 in one, and smartstax is what – 8? – regardless of other implications around this getting 8 working genes stacked in corn is smart beyond reckoning) and offer multiple modes of action for weed control – again coming to the point that while the herbicides used are not environmentally neutral when considered in a vacuum, they are in general, better than what would be used otherwise.

    shows data on pesticide runoff, with generaly downwards trends throughout 1998-2006 (a few up, a few neutral, generally downwards)

    On leaving all of the resources to feed and supply the future population – what future population will there be if we dont feed the current population? How do you feed the current population, with the current political systems in place globally, without using chemicals on crops (I’m not wholly convinced it could be done given a perfect world and 6 billion+, but with the current state of the world it is practically impossible even given current technological useage) – there would be a massive, catastrophic drop in yields of all crops in transitioning to farming traditions of yesteryear, the complete reversal of the green revolution would consign hundreds of millions to a slow painful end, and hundreds of millions more to a life of malnutrition and health problems which entirely put into perspective the imagined health issues caused by current ag systems.

    On a final note, on ‘previously intact genomes’, the corn genome was recently finished. 85% of it apparently consists of transposable elements – the ‘previously intact genome’ is malleable and constantly changing throughout evolutionary time, its intactness is an artifact of your imagination, not a reality.

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