Top Questions About Pesticides
Since we launched The Conversation in fall 2014, we’ve received numerous questions about pesticides — what they are, how they work and if they’re safe. Below are three such questions, which we’re hopeful will help shed light on this important topic. We’d also like to point out a recent infographic about precision in applying pesticides.
And, if reading these questions sparks one of your own, feel free to ask us.
1. In GMO products are the pesticides actually present in the seed and therefore inside of the produce?
Yes – some GMO corn, soybean, and cotton crops produce a type of proteins called “Bt proteins” that are harmful to some insects, but safe for animals and humans. Bt protein, in the form of a spray, is also used by many organic farmers to protect their crops from pests, since it’s a naturally occurring, organic substance.
The benefit of having the protein produced by the plant itself is that it can help can reduce the amount of pesticide sprayed in fields to control pests. In both cases, the Environmental Protection Agency and numerous other regulatory agencies and independent scientists have determined that these uses of Bt proteins are safe.
Here’s a link from the EPA with more information about Bt crops and Bt protein.
2. What is your response to the increased number of pesticides used on genetically modified crops? Are you developing more resistant GMOs?
According to a recent USDA study, the overall use of pesticides in the U.S. has dropped dramatically since farmers started using GMO seeds. GMOs can help farmers reduce chemical sprays that protect crops from insect pests. And one benefit of glyphosate-tolerant crops has been a reduction in tillage on fields.
For more information, check out this article in Grist by Nathanael Johnson on this topic: “In the insecticide wars, GMOs have so far been a force for good.”
3. How can a GMO crop with pesticides in its DNA be as healthy as a non-GMO? How is ingesting that pesticide healthy?
Some GMO crops have a gene from a naturally occurring bacteria called “Bt” that affects a few types of insects (the insects that typically are responsible for destroying crops and can threaten farmers’ livelihoods), but it is safe for people, domestic animals, fish and other wildlife. In fact, because Bt is produced naturally, it’s one of the more common pesticides used by organic farmers. Both ingredients from crops containing the Bt trait and from organic crops sprayed with Bt are safe for human and animal consumption. The EPA evaluated many years of safety data before registering Bt corn. If you’re interested, check out more information on Bt corn from the University of Minnesota.