GeneWatch UK PR: Second generation of GM crops resistant to more toxic weedkillers expose industry's diversionary PR strategy

30th August 2013

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has quietly approved the first of a second generation of GM crops resistant to more toxic weedkillers (1). These crops will be imported to Britain in food and feed, if this is approved by the EU. The crops have been approved amid a global media blitz of stories making unsubstantiated promises about the benefits of theoretical future GM crops such as GM oranges, GM wheat and Golden Rice, placed as 'science' stories to distract from the real plans of the GM industry.

"Selling more weedkillers with GM crops that are resistant to them is the way the GM industry gets its profits. Second generation GM crops will be more of the same but with more toxic weedkillers and more environmental harm", said Dr Wallace "Most experimental GM crops never reach the market and do not deliver on their promises, despite a third of a century of R and D and billions of dollars of investment. But they make great PR for the GM industry which likes people to believe that these are the crops that would be on the market if the EU had weaker regulations. In reality, US regulation is virtually non-existent and blanket spraying with more toxic weedkillers is what they're going to get".

The first second-generation GM crop to be approved is a Bayer soybean variety genetically engineered to withstand direct application of the weedkiller isoxaflutole (IFT), which according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a "probable human carcinogen". Other crops awaiting USDA approval are Dow AgroScience's maize and soybeans, resistant to 2,4-D (one of the ingredients in Agent Orange) and Monsanto's soybeans and cotton, resistant to dicamba. The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has recently doubled the allowed levels of glyphosate (brandname RoundUp), used on Monsanto's existing 'RoundUp Ready' GM crops, entering the food chain (2).

"GM crops which are resistant to weedkillers are causing major environmental harm to iconic species such as Monarch butterflies in the United States and a massive growth in superweeds. This can only be exacerbated by these new approvals", said GeneWatch UK Director, Dr Helen Wallace, "Consumers can look forward to increasing residues of herbicides in the food they eat, unless Britain takes a stand and opposes imports and supermarkets keep these products off the shelves".

Monsanto's soybeans, oil seed rape, sugerbeet and maize resistant to its weedkiller glyphosate (brand name RoundUp) are the leading GM crops currently in cultivation, but superweeds, which have become resistant to glyphosate due to blanket spraying, have become a major problem for US farmers (3). The second generation of GM crops is intended to tackle this problem by using more toxic weedkillers. However, new superweeds resistant to these weedkillers are also expected to evolve. Blanket spraying with RoundUp is believed to be one of the major causes of a massive decline in Monarch butterflies in the US, due to destruction of the milkweed habitat where they lay their eggs (4). Herbicide-tolerant GM crops also risk locking poor farmers into a cycle of poverty, where they are forced to pay increasing prices for patented seeds and more weedkillers as superweeds develop.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is seeking to speed up EU import approvals for GM crops, in the context of the current EU-US free trade agreement negotiations, and to allow low-level contamination of food imports with unapproved GM crops (5). The industry, government and taxpayer-funded scientists have teamed up to promote a hypothetical future generation of supposedly environmentally-friendly GM crops as a deliberate attempt to divert debate away from the products actually entering the market (6). In reality, the pipeline of crops awaiting approval for cultivation in the EU is dominated by herbicide-tolerant crops (7) and the next crop due for approval in food and feed is Smartstax, a joint Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences product that produces six insecticidal proteins and is tolerant to two herbicides (8).

GM herbicide-tolerant crops currently enter the EU mainly for use in animal feed. Major supermarkets (except Waitrose) recently backtracked on promises to avoid GM feed, by allowing Monsanto's GM RoundUp-resistant soya to be used in feed for chicken and egg production (9). Meat, milk and eggs fed on GM feed are not labelled. Tesco has also recently started selling a (labelled) GM breakfast cereal to children, containing an insecticide-resistant GM crop called Bt maize (10).

For further information contact: Dr Helen Wallace (07903-311584)

Notes for Editors
(1) Biotech Industry Inaugurates New Era of Pesticide-Promoting Agriculture. Centre for Food Safety. 29th August 2013.
(2) EPA raises levels of glyphosate residue allowed in food. Washington Times. 5th July 2013.
(3) Glyphosate-resistant weed problem extends to more species, more farms. Farm Industry News. 29th January 2013.
(4) Reported on: ; Pleasants JM, Oberhauser KS (2013) Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population. Insect Conservation and Diversity 6(2):135-144.
(5) EU trade talks top of mind for ASA. Delta Farm Press. 12th April 2013. . Divisive debate on genetically modified foods a battleground in US-Europe trade talks. AP. 2nd August 2013.
(6) GeneWatch UK and GM Freeze Press Release: Monsanto meets ministers to push return of GM crops to Britain. Thursday 25th October 2012.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=571449
(7) Testbiotech Overview: Genetically engineered plants soon to be authorised for cultivation in the EU March 2013 Note: Monsanto has since begun withdrawing its applications for cultivation from this list:
(8) EU Commission wants to allow GE maize SmartStax. TestBiotech. 3rd June 2013.
(9) M&S, Co-op and Sainsbury's say chickens will be fed on GM soya. The Observer. 11th May 2013.
(10) On sale in Tesco, GM cereal that makes children hyperactive. Daily Mail. 24th August 2014.

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