What is in this article?:
Andrew Kimbrell, founder and executive director of the Center for Food Safety, shares his insights and knowledge about GMOs, from regulations to public safety and the latest science.
The failed promise
Despite billions of dollars spent by companies attempting to deliver on the GMO promise, over 80 percent of all genetically engineered crops in the US and around the world are only designed to withstand large applications of herbicides. One major problem with these herbicide-tolerant plants is that weeds are getting resistant to the chemicals, making them very difficult to kill. Wide swaths of American farmland are now infested with these “superweeds” on which the chemicals no longer work. As a result, companies are resorting to creating crops resistant to even more toxic herbicides. But of course eventually the weeds will become resistant to these chemicals as well, a scenario that is inherently doomed to failure.
“I don’t care what people’s view on biotechnology is,” Kimbrell said. “I can’t imagine anybody who understands anything about agriculture who would not oppose plants that are designed solely to tolerate an increase in the amount of weed-killing chemicals so that crops can be massively sprayed with herbicides. Such plants don’t increase yield; they don’t increase taste. They don’t do anything except allow farmers that convenience. And therefore you have 150 million more pounds of these weedkillers sprayed every year. Then you get superweeds—they’re resisting in millions of acres right now.
“Five to eight years hence, current herbicides will no longer work and we’ll have weeds that are resistant to them. So it’s a very cynical game for chemical companies to sell an increasing number of chemicals until they can no longer sell them.”
A similar situation exists with the only other major group of genetically engineered plants, those engineered with insecticides. “Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacterium that is used as an insecticide] can kill the corn borer in corn, when the corn is genetically modified to include it,” said Kimbrell. “In cotton we’ve seen that there’s actually not enough Bt being expressed; it basically vaccinates the pests, because they get a little Bt but not enough to kill them. But I think we are seeing, and will see, more Bt resistance; and it’s also a non-specific pesticide, so it kills butterflies, caddisflies, bees—whatever it wants to kill. This should have been understood before it was ever allowed out there. We shouldn’t have independent reports cropping up years after a crop is approved saying that butterfly larvae are dying, that there’s decimation of caddisflies in streams, and suspicion that bee colony collapse is related to Bt.”
What happened? What went so wrong between the initial promises and the actual delivery of GMOs?