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Environmental Threats

General Overviews

Biotech Goes Wild, a 1999 article from MIT Technology Review.

Maria Alice Garcia of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas of Brazil and University of California agroecologist Miguel Altieri (a peer-reviewed paper from the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, Vol. 25, No. 4, August 2005, 335-353) on the risks to biodiversity from GMO crops.

The Union of Concerned Scientists on the environmental risks of GMO crops in light of recent experiences.

A report from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Ecology and Genetics: An Essay on the Nature of Life and the Problem of Genetic Engineering, warns that GMO’s could wreak environmental havoc, with impacts more severe than those from chemical pollution (see the press release, report summary, and other information. Also see a Washington Post article on the study).

The Ecological Risks and Benefits of Genetically Engineered Plants, from Science.

Genetically engineered organisms and the environment: Current status and recommendations, lengthy review of environmental risks and regulatory inadequacies, from the Ecological Society of America.

In what Nature News describes as “the largest ever study into the ecological impact of transgenic crops,” scientists find that GMOs can threaten biodiversity by reducing plant populations necessary for the survival of butterflies, bees and other wilflife.

A New York Times report finds little federal oversight of environmental risks from GMO crops.

Pesticide Use, Glyphosate Resistance and Superweeds

Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years, a report based on USDA data by a former Chair of the National Academy of Sciences board on agriculture shows that GMO crops have resulted in an increase in pesticide use of 318 million pounds. The 2012 update (on the first 16 years) found the increase in pesticide use had grown to more than 400 million pounds.

A chronology on GMO crops and resistant superweeds from 1982 through 2012, showing that environmentalists and scientists warned early on that GMO crops would lead to increased pesticide use and uncontrollable weed problems, while Monsanto and other chemical companies intended to use GMOs to insure market share for their farm poisons.

Monsanto’s Superweeds Come Home to Roost, a brief review of the company denying that weeds are a problem from GMO crops, and then cashing in on its GMO-created superweeds.

Weedy relatives hybridize with GMO canola and persist in fields over 6 years. In a comment on the findings, scientists note that selective pressure from continued use of herbicides on GMO crops would virtually assure the spread of resistant weeds.

More and More Superweeds from GE Crops, a 2005 Greenpeace paper.

A study finds that so-called “inert” ingredients in Roundup, the herbicide used on Monsanto “Roundup Ready” GMO crops, can kill human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells. Studies for US regulatory approval often assess only the “active” pesticide ingredient, and not the actual formula used by farmers. The researchers noted that Roundup products used by farmers could “cause cell damage and even death [at the] residual levels” found on Roundup-treated soy, corn and other crops.

Non-target insects and Insect resistance

A Cornell University study shows that GMO “Bt” crops can harm Monarch butterflies. The biotech industry vociferously attacked the study and funded research intended to debunk its findings, but one year later a follow-up field study confirms the findings, finding lethal effects to Monarchs from Bt corn pollen (meanwhile, another study showed that GMO herbicide tolerant crops could also harm monarchs). Despite the clear evidence of risks to Monarchs (and potentially other non-target insects), EPA refuses to withdraw approval of Bt crops. Numerous scientists criticize the agency’s process, including several members of the agency’s own scientific advisory panel and many leading Monarch scientists. For example:

Lincoln Brower, one of the world’s leading experts on Monarchs, stated that “the process disregarded international scientific standards and has helped to make science the handmaiden of industrial agriculture.” In his comments to EPA, Brower stated that “Overall, the EPA review of this potential Bt corn problem is flawed and hence the conclusions lack credibility.  Overall, the process of reviewing the potential effects of Bt corn pollen on the monarch butterfly has been frighteningly devoid of scholarship.”

Also, ecologist Gary Nabhan questioned why the agency was relying on industry studies and noted that an EPA official admitted that, had the Monarch study been published earlier, the agency would not have approved Bt crops.

A 2006 review of studies on Bt crops finds risks to non-target insects and a lack of long-term studies on threats to non-target species.

In March 2012, University researchers find that that since the advent of GMO crops, Monarch butterfly egg production in the U.S. farm belt has declined by 81%, due to loss of milkweed. Monarch’s lay eggs on the plant, which previously was widely found around corn fields. Their peer-reviewed paper (abstract here) found that with the advent of GMO Roundup Ready” corn, the rise of the use of Roundup (glyphosate) resulted in a 58% decline in milkweed, and thus a massive decline in habitat for Monarch’s eggs.

Soil Impacts

A series of published studies demonstrated that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide used on GMO crops, can harm beneficial soil microbes and impact productivity, among other negative impacts. Commenting on the studies, the lead author (a USDA scientist) told Reuters that GMO crops are “supposed to be a wonderful tool for the farmer … but in many situations [they] may actually be a detriment.”

Other ecological risks

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