TUESDAY, MARCH 7, 2000
GENETIC ENGINEERING DOES NOT YIELD PESTICIDE REDUCTION
(TORONTO: March 7, 2000) Genetically-engineered (GE) crops cannot be
depended on to reduce pesticide use, according to a report released today by
World Wildlife Fund Canada titled Do Genetically Engineered Crops Reduce
Pesticide Use? The Evidence Says Not Likely. Working to reduce reliance on
pesticides in Canada, WWF is concerned that false hopes about
biotechnology's ability to reduce pesticide use will impede progress towards
"Genetic engineering is not a magical short cut to pesticide reduction,"
said Julia Langer, Director of WWF's Wildlife Toxicology Program. "The path
to pesticide reduction will be paved with reforms to the dysfunctional and
outdated Pest Control Products Act and through strong support for farmers to
implement ecological practices."
Biotechnology companies have focused on the genetic engineering of major
crops such as corn, soybeans, potatoes, cotton and canola, all of which are
heavily sprayed. Most of the GE crops on the market have genes from bacteria
inserted into them (transgenic engineering) which give crops one of two
kinds of new characteristics: either resistance to herbicides so that the
crop can be sprayed with an herbicide without being killed, or the ability
to produce toxins of a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which
will kill some insect pests. Since pesticides can harm birds, fish, other
wildlife, and natural enemies of pests, and are also associated with harm to
people's health, it would be beneficial if GE crops resulted in reduced
However, recent US data show that GE crops are not producing such
reductions. Farmers planting GE crops have often actually increased their
use of herbicides and insecticides.
The WWF report outlines six key reasons underlying why genetic engineering
does not decrease pesticide reliance:
· Herbicide-resistant GE crops often increase the use of the herbicide for
which the crop is resistant and, because uncommon weeds emerged with the
planting of the GE crops, do not necessarily reduce the use of other herbicides.
· Transfer of inserted foreign genes from GE crops to related plants will
increase weediness, requiring additional sprays to control them. This is
especially an issue where weeds are closely related to the engineered crop,
such as canola.
· Bt crops do not necessarily result in reduced spraying of insecticides to
control target pests. In fact, more acres of conventional corn are being
treated with insecticides than before GE corn introduction.
· GE crops will increase resistance of pests to both pesticides and the GE
crop itself. This was predicted during the regulatory review of GE
· GE food crops have negative impacts on beneficial insects such as
lacewings and ladybugs, which would otherwise help farmers to control pests.
· GE crops reinforce poor crop rotation practices which are the real key to
sustainable pest management.
In one analysis, the greater expense of GE seeds and the increased herbicide
costs resulted in a 50 per cent increase in farmers' weed management costs.
Since GE is not performing according to claims and significant risks
continue to emerge, including concerns regarding the impact of Bt corn on
monarch butterflies, WWF concludes that sure-fire ways of achieving
pesticide reduction, including IPM and organic techniques, should be
For more information:
Julia Langer, Director of Wildlife Toxicology, WWF Canada, at (416)-489-4567
ext. 258 or
Greg Hamara, Media Manager, WWF Canada, at (416)-489-4567 ext. 276.
WWF's report Do Genetically Engineered Crops Reduce Pesticide Use? The
Evidence Says Not Likely is available in the pressroom of WWF Canada's web
site at http://www.wwf.ca or by calling WWF at 1-800-26-PANDA.
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