GMO Crops Accelerate Herbicide and Insecticide Use While Mainstream Media Gets It Wrong
Michael Specter’s recent articles bashing Vandana Shiva and the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the New Yorker (Seeds of Doubt and The Problem with G.M.O. Labels) are the latest high-profile pro-GMO articles that fail to engage with the fundamental critique of genetically engineered food crops in U.S. today. Rather than reduce pesticide inputs, GMOs are causing them to skyrocket in amount and toxicity.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Setting the record straight, Dr. Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D., former Senior Scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has recently published a well-researched article documenting the devastating facts, Pesticide Use on Genetically Engineered Crops, in Environmental Working Group’s online AgMag. Dr. Seidler’s article cites and links recent scientific literature and media reports, and should be required reading for all journalists covering GMOs, as well as for citizens generally to understand why their right to know if food is genetically engineered is so important. The short discussion below summarizes the major points of his five-page article.
More than 99 percent of GMO acreage is engineered by chemical companies to tolerate heavy herbicide (glyphosate) use and/or produce insecticide (Bt) in every cell of every plant over the entire growing season. The result is massive selection pressure that has rapidly created pest resistance—the opposite of integrated pest management where judicious use of chemical controls is applied only as necessary. Predictably, just like overuse of antibiotics in confined factory farms has created resistant “supergerms” leading to animals being overdosed with ever more powerful antibiotics, we now have huge swaths of the country infested with “superweeds” and “superbugs” resistant to glyphosate and Bt, meaning more volume of more toxic pesticides are being applied.
For example, the use of systemic insecticides, which coat GMO corn and soy seeds and are incorporated and expressed inside the entire plant, has skyrocketed in the last ten years. This includes use of neonicotinoids (neonics) which are extremely powerful neurotoxins that contaminate our food and water and destroy non-target pollinators and wildlife such as bees, butterflies and birds. In fact, two neonics in widespread use in the US are currently banned in the EU because of their suspected link to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees.
Mainstream pro-GMO media also fail to discuss the ever-increasing amount of older much more toxic herbicides like 2,4 D and Dicamba being sprayed along with huge volumes of Glyphosate to deal with superweeds. Most importantly and egregiously, this biased reporting does not mention the imminent approval of the pesticide industry’s next generation herbicide-tolerant crops that are resistant not only to glyphosate, but also high doses of 2,4 D and Dicamba, that will lead to huge increases of these toxic chemicals sprayed on our food and farming communities.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and EPA are in the process of rubber-stamping these into our farming communities (and unlabeled onto our dinner plates) this fall, yet pro-GMO media consistently fails to discuss their imminent approval even as the lower-toxicity profile of glyphosate is touted. Such reporting gives a pass to the chemical pesticide industry that pours millions into lobbying government and media elites and defeating voter ballot initiatives to require labeling of GMO foods.
Hopefully Dr. Seidler’s article will be widely read and disseminated, so reporters can learn the facts and check their biases against industry-fed distortions. Citizens and consumers need to hear the fundamental concern that GMOs are doubling down on, not freeing us from, the pesticide treadmill that contaminates our food and water while lining the pockets of the chemical companies that make both the GMOs and the pesticides used on them.
David Bronner is president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the top-selling brand of natural soaps in North America. He graduated with a degree (B.A.) in Biology from Harvard University in 1995. A leader in the fight to label GMO foods in the U.S., Dr. Bronner’s dedicates resources to progressive issues on behalf of the company’s mission to use profits to help make a better world.
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New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
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