2. Biotechnology's bitter harvest: herbicide-tolerant crops and the threat to sustainable agriculture.
A Report of the Biotechnology Working Group, USA, 1990, 73 pp.; available from Environmental Defense Fund, 257, Park Avenue South, New
York, NY 10010; price USD 10.00
The objective of this report is to examine the impacts of herbicide-tolerant crops, trees and to recommend changes that will discourage the development and adoption of such crops and trees in U.S. agriculture and forestry.
Modern agriculture depends heavily on herbicides-chemical plant killers-to control weeds. Nearly 80% of the herbicides used annually in this country are applied in agricultural settings. Consumers, farmers, farmworkers, domesticated plants and animals, wildlife, and their habitats are exposed to weed killers.
Against the background of agriculture's current dependence on herbicides, biotechnology, agrichemical, and seed companies, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state agricultural institutions, are using genetic engineering to develop crops and trees resistant to herbicides. Widespread adoption of these crops and trees will lead to increased use of particular herbicides.
Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest examines the impact of agricultural biotechnology's first major product - crops genetically modified to tolerate chemical weed killers, or herbicides. Crops are being given genes that will enable them to tolerate or resist the toxic effects of herbicides. A major research focus of public and private research institutions, herbicide-tolerant crops involve most agricultural crops, including a number of food crops, in the United States.
First, the report examines the extent of current herbicide use and the research sponsored by corporations, federal and state governments on crops and trees that tolerate herbicides. Then, it briefly discusses the human health, environmental, social, and economic impacts of herbicides and herbicide-tolerant plants. Next, the report examines the promises against the realities of widespread use of herbicide-tolerant crops, exposing a variety of detrimental effects herbicide-tolerant crops and trees will have on farmers, consumers, and the environment. Finally, it outlines the promise of sustainable agriculture to provide alternative methods of weed control. Based on its analyses, the report makes recommendations to discourage the development and adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops and trees.
To those with high hopes for the environmental benefits from biotechnology, herbicide-tolerant crops are at best a distressing misstep, at worst a cynical marketing strategy. Both industry and the publicly supported agricultural research establishment must direct their considerable talent and resources toward sustainable alternatives for weed management and other pest controls. The risks of prolonging the chemical era of agriculture are far too clear for farmers, consumers, and the environment. Sustainable practices provide an alternative that will never be realized if public research funds are wasted on such misguided products as herbicide-tolerant crops.
'Threat to Sustainable Agriculture' offers a well-researched critique of current genetic engineering efforts to develop herbicide-tolerant trees and crop plants. Written by a consortium of 18 environmental, farm, consumer and religious groups, and the Texas Department of Agriculture, the study emphasizes that herbicide-tolerant crops may lead to even greater herbicide use, further threatening both natural resources and human health.
The author's note, "Perhaps the greatest problem of herbicide tolerance is that it diverts us from the paths that really could lead to reduced chemical dependency in agriculture. As farmers have known for years, and in some cases are learning anew, responsible tillage practices, crop rotations, and intercropping are viable methods of managing weeds."
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Review, developed countries, developing countries, book, agriculture, wild plants, chemical impacts, agricultural waste, fertilizer, environmental pollution, pesticides, human health
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