'Learn From the US'; Europe is Warned of GM Dangers
In the first ever survey of how Europe would suffer by copying the US, agricultural economist Dr Charles Benbrook warns farmers they can expect a new breed of super weeds, soaring costs and a ravaged landscape.
As the European Commission considers allowing the cultivation of 19 genetically engineered herbicide tolerant crops by early 2013, Dr Benbrook’s survey, commissioned by Greenpeace; concludes that European farmers should reject GM technology before it is too late.
"Farmers in the US are already struggling as they try to spray their way out of the corner they’re backed into,” said Dr Benbrook, a research professor at the Centre for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University. Farmer reliance on herbicide tolerant crops in the US has triggered the emergence and rapid spread of nearly 24 weeds resistant to the chemical glyphosate.
When it is packaged as Roundup Ready, glyphosate is sold by Monsanto to be used on GM crops which are resistant to the chemical. Now the resistance has created ‘superweeds’ which glyphosate is supposed to kill, farmer’s costs have shot up as they are forced to use more toxic herbicides to stop big losses in crop yields.
American farmers say “learn from our mistakes”
Dr Benbrook’s report, called “Glyphosate tolerant crops in the European Union,” uses data based on the US’ experience of herbicide tolerant GM crops to estimate what might happen in the EU if it follows the American lead.
His findings are echoed in “Growing Doubt,” a Greenpeace documentary filmed in Argentina and the US, where farming communities talk about how herbicide tolerant crop monocultures have affected their economy, environment and society.
Wendel Lutz and Wes Shoemyer, two American farmers featured in the film, have travelled to Europe to warn farmers against a similar fate.
“So far, the EU has stood very firm. It still has a chance to retain its independence, to retain its integrity,” said Wes Shoemyer. “It needs to stand up for farmers now while it has the opportunity; it needs to think about the consequences that will follow. It can be assured that once it allows corporate domination, companies like Monsanto will charge basically what the market will bear.”
Blueprint for disaster
If EU farmers take up GM technology as quickly as in the US, current glyphosate use in maize crops – one of the most important and widely grown crops in Europe – will increase by more than 1,000% by 2025, and total herbicide use will double, Dr Benbrook found.
He says “that what has already happened to US agriculture is a blueprint of the disaster being planned for the EU.”
In 2012, Roundup Ready crops were planted on about 65 million hectares in the US, which is about one in every two hectares of cultivated farmland. Between a third and a half of the land planted to Roundup Ready crops is already infested with one or more glyphosate resistant weeds.
As a result, farmers have been forced to spray glyphosate more often and at increasingly higher rates. They also need one to three extra herbicides in their spray programmes to deal with weeds which survive glyphosate.
“The inflated costs of Roundup Ready seed and herbicides have cut into profit margins on US farms,” Dr Benbrook said. “Because there are more herbicide tolerant weeds on the horizon, weed control is bound to get worse in the years ahead.”
Resistant weeds already in Europe
In Europe, Dr Benbrook argues that because farmers are already using large amounts of glyphosate, resistant weeds are likely to emerge much quicker than they did in the US. Populations of six weeds resistant to glyphosate already exist in several EU members states, Dr Benbrook found.
“Approval and widespread planting of Roundup ready crop varieties will create ideal conditions to accelerate the spread of resistant weeds and the emergence of new ones. Both can move aggressively across areas where a high percentage of cropland is sprayed with glyphosate.”
The report was launched in Warsaw to mark the beginning of an 18 day tour around Europe. Greenpeace has invited farmers groups, local communities and national politicians at each stop to discuss their concerns about GM technology.
The GM industry and pro-GM researchers are likely to dismiss this survey because it comes from Greenpeace. But the problems it highlights have been well documented in the scientific and technical literature in the US. It is therefore a timely warning which should be taken seriously by EU farmers, policy makers and citizens.