One of the common criticisms of commercially available Genetically Engineered (GE) seeds is the idea that they have led to an increase in pesticide use. In actuality, it turns out that they’ve corresponded to a decrease in total pesticide use, but this is attributable primarily to insect resistant GE crops, and critics argue that herbicide resistant crops have led to an increase in herbicide usage. It is true that the rise in popularity of glyphosate-resistant (GR) crops in particular has coincided with an increase in the use of glyphosate, which had already been in use to some degree for a couple of decades before the implementation of glyphosate-resistant crops. However, what critics invariably fail to mention is that its rise in popularity also coincided with the phasing out of other herbicides, most of which were significantly more toxic than glyphosate (about which I’ve written in detail here).
The purpose of this article is not to claim that glyphosate and GR crops are the be all end all of weed control (they’re not), nor is it to claim that they were causally responsible for any and every desirable change we see in herbicide usages patterns. Rather, the purpose of this is to show that when opponents of GE technology and of glyphosate claim that GR crops are bad on the grounds that they increased glyphosate use, they are leaving out critical information that would be highly inconvenient for their narrative.
It’s important to note that the data upon which these usage timeline graphs are based is very USA-centric. Perhaps a timeline and analysis of herbicide usage patterns in other places would be a good topic for another article, but the US is not a bad place to start because we do cultivate a lot of glyphosate-resistant crops here, as well as a lot of GE crops in general.
What were some of these herbicides?
Jun 23 2015