Viewpoint: Is ‘Great White’ Promoting GMOs as an Inconvenient Way to Sell Pesticides? Activists’ claims do not stand up to scrutiny

For more than two decades, anti-GMO groups have been making the same dishonest claims about the risks of genetically engineered crops. One of their favorite tropes is: “The rise of genetically modified crops over the last few decades is one of the main factors behind the increase in the use of pesticides and chemicals in agriculture.” This particular example comes from Greenpeace, although other activists have used the same rhetoric to attack gene editing, a newer class of breeding techniques used to enhance our food crops in all kinds of beneficial ways.

For example, on July 6, GM Watch, a group we previously corrected for promoting anti-pesticide nonsense, tweeted. after his claim:

You know how the #GMO industry and its supporters tell us we need to deregulate new #GMOs to reduce pesticide use and make farming more sustainable? Well, what do they say to investors (this is sure to be a gold rush for pesticide-promoting products)…

As the kids say, “If it’s true, it’s great.” What evidence does GM Watch have here? Still in touch another tweet To support this claim about the “GMO industry”:

CIBUS is a leader in the development of new #GMO. They say, “Our goal is a whole new generation of herbicide traits in key crop platforms” and “validation of gene editing technologies will open up one of the biggest opportunities in agriculture – new markets for these crops.”

An increase in the number of improved product types. Instead of promoting monocultures, gene editing promotes biodiversity. Credit: Ian Heap via

Novelty bug

I consider two significant errors. Let’s take them in turn. First, there is no such thing as a “new GMO.” Instead, there are different methods of growing plants, each with strengths and weaknesses. To develop plants with certain traits, scientists can use gene editing to change or delete a segment of DNA from an organism’s genome; more complex traits, such as drought tolerance, may require mixing genes between different species.

Selective breeding began about 10,000 years ago. Credit:

Using “new” and “GMO” as pejoratives is pointless because all breeding methods “genetically modify” the plants and animals we eat, and there is nothing new about that. The European wine industry was saved many years ago by growers who grafted their vines onto insect-tolerant American rootstocks; Almost every wine on the market today comes from these “GMO” grapes. There are records of growers using grafting in China as far back as 1560 BC. History aside, scientists today do not use vaccination because it is an ancient technique; they use it because it is the best means of creating the desired feature. As this recent literature review explains:

Some commercial fruit trees are difficult to propagate by other methods, such as cuttings or air layering, but they respond well to grafting. In addition, many cultivars with superior fruit characteristics have weak root systems or susceptibility to nematodes or diseases, so vigor of seedlings can be increased by grafting.

Plants that encourage pesticides?

Another flaw in GM Watch’s reasoning is that Cibus’ gene-edited seeds are designed to increase pesticide use. [1] Think like a farmer for a moment and you can see why this charge is unfounded. Weed killers are relatively expensive. Like all business people, farmers want to reduce production costs. Why should they buy seeds that increase the use of expensive inputs without additional benefits? Answer: they wouldn’t.

Insecticide application rates in cotton and corn from 1995 to 2010. Credit: National Academies of Sciences

Growers buy herbicide-resistant seeds because they allow better weed control and often result in higher yields; they also tend to reduce the amount of herbicides required by farmers. Between 1996 and 2015, the total use of herbicides decreased by 226.3 million kg, an eight percent decrease. If the bloggers at GM Watch had spent a little more time on Cibus’ website, they might have discovered these economic facts for themselves:

Product Protection Characteristics are important because they directly affect product yield and costs associated with product production. [One example] There would be Roundup-resistant crops that would allow producers to spray Roundup to control weeds without harming crop plants…a trait that greatly improved yields and greatly reduced or eliminated the use and cost of crop protection chemicals such as herbicides… and significantly reduces fuel / manpower used. product protection.

I was going to write a witty conclusion to this article, just a few words to explain how GM Watch can deny the facts until everyone starts ignoring them. But I think Twitter user Sea witch I summed up everything I had to say correctly:

[1] According to the EPA, “pesticide” describes “any substance or mixture of substances intended to prevent, destroy, repel, or reduce the effect of any pest.” That’s why I use the words “herbicide” and “pesticide” interchangeably.

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