New York Times: GM crops require more pesticides and don’t increase yields

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Posted Nov 27 2016 by Dave Darby of

I’ve been saying for a long time that GM crops do not increase yields and they don’t reduce pesticide use – because that’s not what they’re designed for. This report in the New York Times shows that I was right.

A lot of the opposition to GM has been about whether it’s safe to eat, and this is frustrating in the same way that it’s frustrating that a lot of the opposition to pesticides has been about food safety, or that a lot of the opposition to fracking has been about earthquakes. This kind of opposition scores a bit of an own goal I think (if you can have a ‘bit’ of an own goal). Fracking is about injecting toxic chemicals into the earth and pesticide use is about spraying toxic chemicals onto the earth – both bad ideas because we’re in a mass extinction event that we should be thinking seriously about stopping, for the very non-altruistic reason that it will kill us if we don’t stop. Spreading poisons into the environment isn’t going to help stop extinctions – quite the opposite.

But the opposition is rarely about the reasons that certain technologies exist at all – to capture greater market share for the corporate sector. That is, for the corporate sector to gain total control of our food and energy supply, as if they didn’t control them enough already. This is really important to understand – we have to reject arguments that they’ve been developed to ‘feed the world’ or allow us to reduce pesticide use.

Here are some graphs comparing yields for GM (North America) and non-GM (Europe) crops. They’re reproduced from the NY Times, whose source is the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation.

Here’s a comparison of sugar beet yields in Europe (non-GM) and the US (GM). Yields have improved more in Europe, without GM than they have in the US, with GM.


Here’s a graph comparing corn yields in the US and Western Europe since the 1980s. Yields have increased at the same rate, and the introduction of GM in the States in the nineties made no difference.


And here’s a comparison of rapeseed yields – European (non-GM) yields are higher and growing at the same rate as US yields. The introduction of GM in the US in the nineties made no difference to these trends.


The idea that we ‘can’t feed the world’ without GM technology is absurd (as is the idea that corporate executives care about that), and people who insist that we can’t are corrupt. Seriously, you mustn’t be fooled by them. See here for more on why there’s not even a food shortage. Similarly, don’t believe corrupt politicians who tell you that TTIP, CETA and other corporate-initiated trade deals are about free trade – they are about granting a larger market share to the corporate sector, and nothing else.

And what about the spraying toxic chemicals? Does GM reduce the need to do this? No. Here are two graphs that compare pesticide use in France and in the US since the 1990s. Again, from the NY Times, the sources are the Union of Industries of Plant Protection in France and the US Geological Survey. In both countries, insecticide use has fallen very slightly, but in France, herbicide use has gone down dramatically, without the need for GM, whilst in the States, herbicide use is increasing rapidly, despite GM advocates telling us that GM means reduced pesticide use.

A graph detailing the use of pesticides in France

A graph detailing use of pesticides in the United States

Remember, this is peer-reviewed stuff. This is not something GM advocates can argue against and remain credible. And of course GM compaines don’t suffer from increases in pesticide use – note that most of the increase in herbicide is down to the growth in application of glyphosate-laden ‘Roundup’, manufactured by (surprise, surprise) Monsanto.

I’d have more respect for Monsanto et al. if they were more honest about it, and said ‘listen folks, technologies such as GM, nuclear, fracking, oil etc. are so huge and complicated that they can only be developed and controlled by large corporations such as ours. If we don’t move in this direction, and we allow the economy to be dominated by small companies, self-employed people and co-operatives instead of Godzilla companies like ours, we won’t be able to grow our economy as efficiently as other countries, and our corporations won’t be able to make inroads into their economies, selling them fizzy drinks and employing their peasants to make our clothes and grow our palm oil. They, on the other hand, will have no such qualms, and before you know it, you’ll be working in sweatshops and plantations to enrich Chinese and Indian corporations. We have to do this. Work with us rather than against us.’

I’d have more respect for them, but I still wouldn’t agree, and I hope you don’t fall for it either. We can’t prevent ‘their’ corporations from dominating the world by allowing ‘our’ corporations to dominate the world. We have to work with like-minded groups in all countries to help bring about a world that isn’t dominated by corporations at all – but there’s a long way to go. Opposition to, and refusal to buy GM food is a good start.

Also, the situation as regards pesticides is going to get much worse. GM crops are modified to be herbicide-resistant, so why should pesticide use go down if the same companies are manufacturing the pesticides? It doesn’t make sense. However, weeds have a habit of becoming resistant to pesticides too, requiring greater quantities and a wider range of chemicals to keep them in check. The US Agriculture Dept. has recently given the green light to the use of a pesticide called 2,4-D, which was a component of Agent Orange – used by the US military to defoliate rainforests during the Vietnam War.

So if GM crops can’t feed the world (and they can’t – they just waste resources, concentrate wealth and power in the wrong places and cause more toxicity, without increasing yields), what can? See here for the answer; or here, or here.