Despite genetic modifications to seeds by biotech companies like Monsanto to make plants insect-resistant, pests have developed immunity, and farmers are falling back on chemical insecticide to protect their crops.
A corn hybrid invented by biotech companies was designed with a gene called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), in order to poison rootworm, but the bugs are making a comeback.
A report in the Wall Street Journal in May announced the skyrocketing sales. “Insecticide sales are surging after years of decline, as American farmers plant more corn and a genetic modification designed to protect the crop from pests has started to lose its effectiveness. The sales are a boon for big pesticide makers, such as American Vanguard Co. and Syngenta,” wrote Ian Berry.
"We used to get sick [from the chemicals]," Dan Steiner, an independent crop consultant in northeastern Nebraska, told NPR.
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"Because we'd always dig to see how the corn's coming along. We didn't wear the gloves and everything, and we'd kind of puke in the middle of the day. Well, I think we were low-dosing poison on ourselves!"
Superinsects aren’t the only problem, these crops have superweeds as well. Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops, have given way to superweeds that are also resistant to Roudup. “Every year it will get worse,” Tracy Franck, an Iowa farmer, told the Cedar Rapids-based Gazzette.
Farmers have responded by dumping more herbicide on crops.
Franck said with his father and his son they “are putting on more Roundup every year to kill the same amount of weeds.”
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Other farmers are supplementing with older, more toxic herbicides.
Steiner said he encourages corn growers to rotate crop in order to starve the rootworm, but that method is unlikely to be adopted by farmers who take in some $5 billion in government subsidies each year – no matter what their crop yields.
According to University of Nebraska entomologist Lance Meinke, believes it is a hard cycle to stop.
"I think economics are driving everything," Meinke told NPR. "Corn prices have been so high the last three years, everybody is trying to protect every kernel. People are just really going for it right now, to be as profitable as they can.”
Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, and Syngenta control 80 percent of the corn seed market and 70 percent of the soy mark, according to Mother Jones. In 2010, many farmers claimed they didn’t even have access to lower-priced, non-GM seeds.
Since GMO crops were introduced, in 1996, to 2011 there has been a 7 percent increase in pesticide use, meaning an additional 404 million pounds of chemicals have been applied on U.S. crops.
Insecticides, herbicides, parasitic mites, and viruses are killing bee populations across the globe, scientists say. While a third of bee populations have been wiped out my colony collapse disorder, Monsanto recently promised to save honeybees, without which crops won’t be pollinated.