New Report Finds GE Crops Don’t Increase Yields but Do Increase Herbicide Use

New research finds that GE technology doesn’t increase crop yields or reduce overall pesticide use.

Seeds in a laboratory
New research finds that GE technology doesn’t increase crop yields or reduce overall pesticide use. (Tonet Photo/Shutterstock)

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Editor’s Note: Just mere days after the New York Times reported that GE technology doesn’t increase crop yields but does increase overall pesticide use (including herbicides), the U.S. EPA has cleared the way for more farmers to use a powerful herbicide on GE crops. Known as Enlist Duo, the chemical concoction has two active ingredients: 2,4-D and glyphosate, the former infamously used during the Vietnam War as an active ingredient in Agent Orange. The EPA has already approved Enlist Duo in 15 states, a decision that Earthjustice has repeatedly challenged. Now, cotton, corn and soybean farmers in 19 additional states can use Enlist Duo to treat weeds.

“First generation GE crops were a disaster, causing herbicide-resistant weeds to infest millions of acres of farmland. Agribusiness now wants to double down with a quick fix, so the EPA is approving Enlist Duo, turning a blind eye to the health and environmental impacts of this nasty chemical cocktail, “says Earthjustice managing attorney Paul Achitoff, who has been fighting for more than a decade to strengthen regulations for GE crops.

This past weekend, the New York Times dropped a bombshell. The long-heralded promise that genetically engineered, or GE, foods—will increase crop yields while decreasing chemical pesticide use is, well, a big fat fallacy.

The Times came to this conclusion after extensively analyzing independent, academic and industry-funded research on both crop yields and overall pesticide use in the United States and Canada. It compared those findings to agricultural research in Europe—which chose 20 years ago to reject GE technology while the U.S. and Canada moved full steam ahead.

Though the Times’ conclusion is a big blow to the biotech industry’s credibility, it’s not all that surprising. After all, the industry’s bottom line depends on increasing sales of pesticides, so it’s doubtful that it would make a product that would decrease the need for these chemicals.

“Farmers and the public are now waking up to what we’ve been saying for years:  GMOs accomplish the biotech industry’s goals to sell more toxic chemicals but very little else,” says Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff, who has been fighting for more than a decade to strengthen regulations for GE crops.

Clearly the biotech industry is losing in the court of public opinion. But rather than back down, it’s actually doubling down on its frankenbabies—by creating an even more toxic set of next-gen GE crops and the pesticides engineered to resist them.

That’s why Earthjustice is continuing its efforts to stop this ongoing environmental disaster. And we’re taking the fight to the place where the impacts of GE technology and pesticides are felt the most—in Hawai’i—where the Aloha State’s year-round warm weather has made it ground zero for experimental field trials of GE crops. Our efforts to rein in GE technology include:

1.Defending the right of people of Hawai‘i to protect themselves from GE crops and the harmful pesticides that they’re modified to withstand. After years of watching local regulators sit on their hands, the counties of Kaua‘i, Maui and Hawai‘i recently approved ordinances to restrict GE crops. Unsurprisingly, the biotech industry challenged the move, so we stepped in on the side of the people, and we’re now awaiting a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

2.Pushing to revoke the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture’s authority to enforce pesticide regulations. For years, the department has failed to enforce pesticide use violations and has allowed a large backlog of pesticide complaints and investigations to accumulate. Earthjustice petitioned the EPA in August, asking it to step in and do the agriculture department’s job.

3.Suing Hawai‘i’s Agribusiness Development Corporation in Hawai‘i’ for violating the Clean Water Act by polluting waters along Kauaʻi’s west side. The state agency manages a 40-mile drainage ditch system that each day funnels millions of gallons of polluted waters into popular recreational sites. This open sewer is fouled by GE crop fields, a landfill, a wastewater treatment plant and populated areas. Earthjustice is also suing the state Department of Health for abdicating its constitutional duties to conserve and protect these water resources.

4.Asking the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance to investigate the recent pesticide poisoning that sent employees of Syngenta to the hospital. Last January, workers walked into a Syngenta field on Kauaʻi’s west side and were taken to the hospital for treatment after the company sprayed the field with the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Syngenta has refused to provide information about the incident, such as how many workers were affected or what treatment they received, whether Syngenta had directed them to enter the field, and whether warning signs had been posted.

5.Suing the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture and the Agribusiness Development Corporation for their failure to limit pesticide exposure of Native Hawaiians in West Kaua‘i and on Moloka‘i. In both areas, large populations of Native Hawaiians live very close to large-scale spraying operations, and as a result they are constantly subjected to pesticide drift. Earthjustice is arguing that the agencies are violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by exposing Native Hawaiians in West Kaua‘i and on Moloka‘i to more pesticides than other population.

While we continue to stay busy in the courts, it’s hopeful to see that the court of public opinion is on our side. Stay tuned for more updates on our litigation.

Fertile Grounds is a blog series that examines the challenges and opportunities in ensuring access to healthy, sustainable and affordable food for all. We talk about the entire lifecycle of food—from seed selection and planting to consumption and disposal—because there is potential for improvement throughout. We’re informed by the expertise of our many clients and allies and by Earthjustice’s years of work to ban harmful pesticides, encourage sustainable farming methods, reduce pollution, support farmworker justice and promote a healthy relationship between farmers and communities.

Jessica is a former award-winning journalist. She enjoys wild places and dispensing justice, so she considers her job here to be a pretty amazing fit.