By Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Nov. 24--PRESTON, MINN.
Danny Serfling knew he was in trouble in July. Tiny white worms in the soil had eaten away the anchoring roots on half of his corn, and in one big storm last summer, the stalks toppled like sticks.
"All the corn around here went flat -- from Spring Valley to Mabel," said Serfling, who farms a few hundred acres here in southeastern Minnesota. He waved a tattooed arm toward stubbled hills that rolled away to the gray October sky, resigned to the next step. "We will have to use more insecticide," he said.
It is what scientists and environmentalists regard as one of nature's great ironies: Fifteen years ago, genetically engineered seeds promised to reduce the amount of poisons used on the land, but today they are forcing farmers to use more -- and sometimes more toxic -- chemicals to protect their crops.
Why? Because pests have done what nature always does -- adapt. Just as some bacteria have become resistant to antibiotic drugs, a growing number of superweeds and superbugs in the nation's farm fields are proving invulnerable to the tons of pesticides that go hand in hand with genetically modified seeds.
The rising tide of pesticides is alarming many scientists and environmentalists about their effect on what's left of the North American prairie ecosystem, which survives in and around the vast "green deserts" of row crops that now stretch across the Upper Midwest.
"There are now 80 million acres of treated corn," said Eric Mader, an ecologist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. "That's a huge volume of pesticides applied for one crop."
What's next, they say, is even worse. To combat the growing wave of resistant weeds and bugs, biotech companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical Company are poised to launch a whole new arsenal of genetically modified seeds that will accelerate the chemical warfare. Some are designed for use with older, more toxic herbicides that scientists say pose an even greater risk to the environment and human health.
The biotech companies say they will educate farmers and extension agents on how to minimize the health and environmental risks, and that the multiple genetic weapons contained in the new seeds will make it impossible for pests to develop resistance.
"We believe this can be managed," said Rick Cole, a weed management technical lead for Monsanto.
Still, a rising chorus of protest from environmental and agricultural scientists says it won't work. Nature, they say, will simply adapt again.
"It makes about as much sense as pouring gas on a fire to put it out," said Charles Benbrook, a researcher at Washington State University. "It is going to lead to the exact same problem and a substantial increase in much less benign herbicides."
Fifteen years ago, genetically modified seeds revolutionized farming.
Just a few notes about errors in the piece, first is that widespread commercial growing of Monsanto gmo crops began in 1997 but FDA Notification, what substitutes for approval in America, dates from 1994. Secondly the author repeats the industry talking point that glyphosate, active ingredient in Roundup is "relatively harmless" to people and environment and this is entirely false. It is only lack of testing that has offered industry the ability to use Big Tobacco ploy of saying, "We see no harm" and imply that means it is safe. Newer studies that go beyond 90 days with rats and some older ones that were ignored show a great deal of increased cancers, birth defects etc.
Just want to be clear that seeding is not endorsement of accuracy in its entirety but happy farm communities are reporting gmo news at all!