Are Resistant Pests a Blow to Genetically Modified Crops?

Despite the controversy surrounding genetically modified crops, there is a reason they've been planted on more than 1 billion acres of land since 1996. GM crops can offer nutritional and medical benefits in developing countries and industrialized advantages such as drought tolerance and pest immunity. Well, except for that last one. A new study conducted by the University of Arizona found that five of the 13 major pests were found to be resistant to the crops engineered to keep them at bay. In 2006, only one super-pest existed.

Is this the beginning of the end for biotechnology seed companies Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) , Syngenta (NYSE: SYT  ) , and DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) ? I know this doesn't help the recent string of negative publicity, but it actually isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. In fact, the world's agriculture industry is doing remarkably well at the 1 billion acre mark, compared with the early doomsday predictions of the critics. This is nowhere near a global epidemic, either: The resistance problem is isolated to localized regions. Luckily, the industry has already come up with a solution that will reverse its spread and minimize future occurrences.

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  • Report this Comment On July 01, 2013, at 9:33 AM, eyeknonothing wrote:

    Here is the truth as to GMO's. You can make your own decision as to whether or not the lying Monsatan and the Biotech industry at large is telling the truth.

    http://earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/GMO_Myths_and_Truths/G...

  • Report this Comment On July 01, 2013, at 11:29 AM, getthetruth2 wrote:

    eyeknonothiong: as you name sugegsts - you know nothing. 16 years of cultivation, 3 billion acres, not a single human and animal health problem and half a billion lbs of insecticide reduced. The myth is GMO cause harm. The myth is GMOs are only for big farms and developed countries. The true myth is earthopen source and eco cazies are nuts and wrong.

    Take the GMO test - glassA : GM corn extract Glass B: diluted chemical insecticide previously used to kill corn or cotton insects- start drinking - guess which one dies first. Both will die, the GM corn extract drinking person would die about the same time as the one drinking water - and do you get my subtle point - even water is toxic in the correct dose

  • Report this Comment On July 01, 2013, at 5:14 PM, eyeknonothing wrote:

    Yes, I'm an idiot. Here's another article for you. GMO's are counter intuitive. GMO's go against the laws of nature. Water is toxic? Very interesting. It seems like you are on the bandwagon after all. Did you get my subtle point?

    http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/14000-syn...

  • Report this Comment On July 02, 2013, at 3:12 PM, Jim12567 wrote:

    eyeknonothing - Links to biased organizations is not very convincing.

  • Report this Comment On July 02, 2013, at 3:46 PM, eyeknonothing wrote:

    you keep spreading your crapola ok. i can only go with my instincts. i will do whatever i can to have these frankenfoods labeled and ultimately ban gmo. and have the heads of the corporations, legislators who have been bought, crooked bureaucrats and the like thrown in prison. that would be in a perfect world.

  • Report this Comment On July 02, 2013, at 6:26 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @eyeknonothing

    "GMO's go against the laws of nature."

    Actually, GMO's are a beautiful exploitation of the laws of nature. Combing life's components at the most basic level to create a net benefit to society.

    --Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2013, at 2:48 PM, WeekdayWarrior wrote:

    Hi Max,

    Thanks for putting together an interesting spotlight. With current intellectual property structures around genetically engineered crops in place, the agbiotech industry has turned the business of genetic engineering into an extremely profitable business model. It hasn't done this by providing consumer benefits however, and if those IPR structures change, the business model might be forced to restructure rapidly.

    75%+ of GMO crops grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance (e.g. roundup ready crops). The great majority of the remaining crops on the market are Bt crops, like those you describe in your article.

    Though in theory genetically engineered crops might be able to "offer nutritional and medical benefits in developing countries and industrialized advantages such as drought tolerance", the reality is that this is not what's coming to market. There are no crops on the market that use genetic engineering to directly increase yield, drought tolerance, or nutritional benefit to the consumer.

    A prime example of this is "golden rice." Touted for 15 years as a potential solution to vitamin-a deficiency-related blindness, it's still not in commercial production, and the jury's still out on whether the beta carotene produced by the grain actually accessible to the body.

    Given the increased cost in inputs (water, fertilizers/soil conditioners, and the herbicides with which GMO crops are designed to be used), these crops don't actually represent a good way forward for developing countries that already deal with financial challenges. The UN's IAASTD, an in-depth study launched by the World Bank actually found that modern agro-ecological methods were a better solution for alleviating world hunger concerns. (http://is.gd/IAASTD)

    So, yes, agbiotech has driven profits in its sector, and for some large-scale first-world farmers. But when we separate the marketing spin from the facts, it has NOT done so by helping the public, and especially not the third-world public.

    As the US public has become more aware of this fact, 25+ US states have begun working toward labeling legislation around genetically engineered foods. State-by-state regulations could be problematic for GMO food producers, which could significantly impact planting of these crops in future.

    Suits are starting to reach the supreme court now that could influence the ongoing patentabillity of these products. The recent BRCA case is not directly relevant, but may foreshadow other decisions. http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/13/politics/scotus-genes

    I'm no investment expert, but given the external factors, this might be a good time to exercise a little caution around biotech buys.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2013, at 3:16 PM, kofigan wrote:

    Max,

    You're an analyst. Do your homework. If you don't you'll appear instead to be a shill.

    If the growth of resistant pests were a stock, you'd be touting it as a "Strong Buy" as it's grown 600% in seven years. You'd say to us,"Buy now. Right now the resistance is only local but this has the possibility of growing national and even global!! Just think of the returns!"

    And did you see what the "industry solution" was? Yep, just increase the strength of the pesticide - apparently to use one of the ingredients in agent orange (search wiki "agent orange" for background).

    Let me guess. It sounds like a spiral, right? And when the pests get resistant to this pesticide, what do we do? That's right, we up the amps. Now do you get it?

    You may be right; these industries might buy their way to continued success but my bet's that the stunning lack of promised results and increasing costs and negative impact on the environment will turn this investment opportunity south in the not-too-distant future.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2013, at 3:43 PM, kofigan wrote:

    to getthetruth2

    for a truth-getter, you're a sore disappointment.

    First, they application of Glyphosate has increased over 10X since the introduction of GM crops. Perhaps it's not easy for you to grasp but making crops resistant to the effects of Glyphosate makes it easier to put MORE not LESS of the stuff on your crops.

    More important: Claiming - or even proving - that no one has died from the dissemination or ingestion of GM-crops is a very narrow claim. (And you might want to ask a few hundred cotton farmers in India whether or not it's correct).

    Even if no one has died, the points made in the comments above still hold: 1) The benefits to all but land-constrained farmers have proven few. 2)The consumer benefits have proven virtually non-existent, 3) The environmental effects of pest tolerance, unwanted spread and increased monocropping are real and serious. 4) The economic impact of having a few companies - with less than stellar track records of public safety practices - controlling your food chain with patents is at least questionable.

    Don't forget, despite what you read most GM products were designed by pesticide producing companies to make it possible to use an increasing amount and number of pesticides. That's it. That's the whole story.

    If I'm selling you a car and I tell you it's in great shape and you buy it without taking it to a mechanic, you get what you pay for.

    That's it. Buyer beware. My take is you've bought in way too early.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2013, at 3:50 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @WeekdayWarrior

    Great points about the drawbacks and "failure to launch" concerning poorer countries. I was under the impression that golden rice was in commercial production in India, but I'll have to check that now. I am actually working on a larger series of written articles on GMOs, and your comment will certainly keep me honest. I plan to stick to scientific studies, since science is inherently neutral, but both sides make very good points on several issues.

    --Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2013, at 3:55 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @kofigan

    The problem with resistance wasn't just local, it was micro-local. No farmer is battling five resistant pests on a single farm. One pest may have been resistant to a small region in Western India, where another tolerated Bt in southern Iowa, and so on. Additionally, the industry's solution to this problem is mixed bags with refuge seeds, not stronger chemicals.

    At the end of the day it is the fault of the farmers for not following the rules.

    --Maxxwell

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