Q & A: The Environment

Question:

Is there really a connection between Roundup Ready crops and no-till?

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No-till is one form of “conservation tillage,” a variety of techniques by which farmers plant without first plowing.  The idea is to minimize soil disturbance, leave last year’s crop residue on the soil, and so reduce soil erosion.  USDA reports show clearly that use of conservation tillage jumped from the 1980s through mid 1990s, then leveled out.  Soil erosion likewise plummeted over this period, only to level out from the mid 1990s on.  RR crops, introduced in the mid 1990s, have not promoted con-till.  Instead, it was policies in the 1985 and 1990 Farm Bills that tied subsidies to use of soil-conserving practices.  (See this link, pp. 43-51.)

Featured voice: Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst

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Question:

I’ve heard farmers can be sued for saving GE seeds to replant. Is this true? And how do the companies get away with this?

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A series of U.S. Patent Office and court decisions in the 1980s allowed firms to patent living organisms: first, a GE bacterium, and soon after plants.  Monsanto has exploited its patents on GE seeds to outlaw seed-saving, as a form of patent infringement.  This forces farmers to return to the market each year to buy new (patented) GE seeds.  Because the biotech giants now own half the world’s seed supply, and public sector breeders are dying out, farmers have ever fewer non-GE, non-patented seed choices.  Monsanto has sued and collected tens of millions of dollars from thousands of farmers for allegedly saving the company’s patented seeds.  Seed patents would be even more disastrous in developing countries, where poor farmers cannot afford commercial seed and are vitally dependent on seed-saving for survival.

Featured voice: Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst

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Question:

I’ve heard both that GE crops increase and decrease pesticide use. What’s the story here, both can’t be true!

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The best independent study to date, based on gold-standard USDA data, shows that GE crops have increased pesticide use by 404 million lbs. in the 16 years from 1996-2011.  A modest decline in chemical insecticide use has been swamped by a huge increase in herbicide spraying thanks to Roundup Ready crops and the “superweeds” they’ve spawned.  And worse is yet to come.  Biotech companies are poised to introduce a host of new crops resistant to older, more toxic herbicides, like dioxin-laced 2,4-D, which was part of the Agent Orange defoliant used in Vietnam.  These crops will dramatically escalate toxic herbicide use, and foster still more intractable superweeds resistant to multiple herbicides.  Totally unsustainable.  Biotech industry-funded reports that purport to show reduced pesticide use are “simulation studies” based on demonstrably false assumptions.

Featured voice: Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst

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Question:

What’s all this I hear about “superweeds”? Are they connected to GE crops?

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Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready crops as a seed-chemical package, telling farmers they could rely completely on Roundup to kill weeds.  Roundup use skyrocketed, triggering an epidemic of Roundup-resistant “superweeds” – just as overuse of antibiotics leads to superbugs.  To kill superweeds, farmers use more toxic herbicides, more soil-eroding tillage, and even hire hoeing crews!

Featured voice: Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst

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Question:

But don’t genetically engineered crops have higher yields?

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