by Jennifer Hsaio
figures by Krissy Lyon

Summary: Pesticides are ubiquitous. Because they are used in agriculture and food production, pesticides are present at low levels in many of our diets.  Less obvious is the fact that many people use pesticides around their homes, and even on their skin (i.e. in the form of insect repellents). According to the NIH, the health effects of pesticides are still not well understood [1]. Potential effects include cancer and damage to the nervous, endocrine, and reproductive systems. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are often engineered to be more resistant to pesticides or produce pesticides themselves. How are GMOs changing the landscape of pesticide usage in our crop fields, and ultimately, the pesticide dosage in our dinners?

Pesticides are substances used to repel, kill, or control animals (insecticides) or plants (herbicides) that are considered to be pests.  There are different types of pesticides, which include synthetic pesticides and biopesticides (Figure 1).  Pesticides are used extensively in agriculture and they are also used at a lower scale in our homes and on ourselves.  According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the health effects of pesticides are not well understood, but their use has been associated with conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and neurological effects.  GMOs have been changing the way that pesticides are used in agriculture.  Herbicide-tolerant genetically modified (GM) crops have led to an increase in herbicide usage while insecticide-producing GM crops have led to a decrease in insecticides. To understand whether GMOs make us better or worse off in our interaction with pesticides, let’s explore the relationship between pesticides and GMOs in some detail.

Figure 1. Pesticides are grouped under several classes. 

The Upside of Pesticides

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pesticides are often the only effective way to control disease organisms [2].  As a result, their use has become deeply entrenched in our lives. We as consumers often reap the benefits of pesticide use with lower costs and a wider selection of food and clothing.  As a way of conserving food supply and lower food costs, they also help to combat hunger and related problems in various parts of the world (see this article).  Pesticides can protect our homes and buildings from structural damage by creatures such as termites. They can protect our health, too – disease outbreaks are prevented by controlling insect and rodent populations.  Pesticides can even disinfect our drinking water and medical instruments [2].

The Downside of Synthetic Pesticides

Despite their agricultural, economic, and safety , pesticides can also have negative impacts on our health.  Many conventional pesticides are synthetic materials that kill or inactivate the pest directly.  These chemical pesticides include compounds such as organophosphates, carbamates, pyrethroids, and sulfonylureas.  Short-term exposure to a large amount of certain pesticides can result in poisoning.  Exposure to large amounts of pesticides is usually more likely for people such as farmers who may frequently touch and/or breathe in pesticides. The effects of long-term exposure to small amounts of these pesticides are unclear, but studies have linked them to a variety of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and neurological defects (for more detailed information, the EPA has an extensive table of health effects of different pesticides).   Specifically, carbamates and organophosphates are known to affect the nervous system by disrupting a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine [3].  Studies have shown preliminary evidence that chronic, low-dose exposure to pesticides increases the risk of cognitive impairments and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s later in life [4].  A study of 50 pesticides and more than 30,000 licensed pesticide applicators linked exposure of seven pesticides that contain chlorinated compounds (including two herbicides, two organophosphate insecticides, and two organochlorines) to increased risk of diabetes [5].  Exposure to pesticides has also been associated with increased infertility in women and developmental problems in children [6].

Natural Pesticides and GMOs

Biopesticides are derived from natural materials such as plants, animals, bacteria, and minerals. There are three main categories of biopesticides: 1) microbial pesticides, which are microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi, viruses, or protozoa) that have relatively specific pest targets; 2) biochemical pesticides, which are naturally occurring substances that control pests using nontoxic mechanisms (e.g. mimics of insect sex hormones that interfere with their mating); and 3) plant-incorporated-pesticides (PIPs), which are pesticides that the plants themselves produce after genetic material has been added to them.  An example of a PIP is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring bacterium in the soil that produces proteins specifically active against certain insects.  Some crops such as corn, cotton, and soybeans have been genetically engineered to express the Bt genes that act as insecticides (see this article).  Bt corn is designed to control corn pests such as the European corn borer, corn earworm, and southwestern corn borer, and Bt cotton effectively controls cotton pests such as the tobacco budworm, cotton bollworm, and pink bollworm [7].  The use of Bt crops has led to a reduction in conventional synthetic insecticide use [8] (Figure 2).  The EPA has analyzed Bt crops and found that they do not pose any significant risks to human health [7].  Specifically, the EPA has done studies showing that the Bt protein in GM plants behaves as would be expected for a dietary protein, is not structurally related to a known food allergen or protein toxin, and does not show toxicity when administered orally at high doses [7].

Figure 2. Timeline of the introduction of Bt corn into cornfields and the concurrent reduction of insecticide usage in these fields. The two quantities are strongly anti-correlated, suggesting that this Bt crop has made synthetic insecticides unnecessary. 

Roundup tolerance and the development of herbicide resistance

GM herbicide-tolerant crops enable farmers to use certain herbicides that will kill weeds without harming their crop. The prime example of GM herbicide-resistant crops is the suite of “Roundup-resistant” GMOs, which are designed to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, an ingredient in the weed killer Roundup (see this article).  Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world by volume [9].  It is employed extensively in agriculture and can be found in garden products in many countries.

The use of these herbicide-tolerant crops has allowed farmers to switch from traditional herbicides to glyphosate (Figure 3). The good news is that glyphosphate is thought to be less toxic and less persistent than traditional herbicides, which means that it carries fewer health risks for humans [10].

However, the World Health Organization recently announced that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, so we still need to be cautious [11] (for more information, the EPA also has a list of other pesticides and their carcinogen status).  Although studies have shown conflicting conclusions about the link between glyphosate and cancer in humans, glyphosate has been linked to cancer in rats and mice and experiments in human cells have shown that exposure to glyphosate can cause DNA damage [9].

Plants may develop resistance to herbicides over time [12].  Weeds that have developed resistance to herbicides such as glyphosate may require higher amounts of glyphosate and perhaps other herbicides to keep them in check, and this means that herbicide-tolerant crops will be exposed to higher levels of herbicides as well.

Figure 3. Timeline of glyphosate-based herbicide use on corn, cotton, and soybean in response to the growing popularity of their GMO versions. Since the introduction of Roundup-tolerant crops, herbicides have experienced a significant increase in application. (Adapted from [15])

Ways to reduce pesticide exposure

The lack of conclusive evidence ruling out negative effects of chronic exposure to low doses of pesticides may mean that we should still work to minimize exposure to pesticides when possible.  It is especially important to limit the pesticide exposure of more susceptible groups of people such as pregnant women and growing children.  Pesticide use should be regulated in a way that will limit development of herbicide and insecticide resistance in their target organisms.  This can help prevent an increase in the amount and toxicity of pesticides used.  Making sure that farmers are aware of the best ways to limit unwanted pesticide resistance will also be essential.

Fortunately, pesticide use is studied, monitored, and regulated by organizations such as the EPA and the World Health Organization. The EPA regulates pesticides in food by evaluating every new pesticide for safety and every new use before it is registered [13].  The EPA evaluates hundreds of scientific studies on pesticides to ensure their safety to humans.  After a pesticide is registered, the EPA reevaluates its safety every 15 years [13].  Before the EPA allows a pesticide to be used on crops, it sets a maximum legal residue limit (called a “tolerance”) for each treated food, and if that residue limit is exceeded, government action will be taken [13].

Furthermore, it is essential to strike a balance in pesticide usage: we want to minimize the consequences induced by the toxicity of synthetic pesticides, while maximizing their beneficial effects for crops. GMOs have played a mixed role in this development, helping reduce pesticide use in some cases (e.g. with Bt crops) while increase pesticide use in other cases (e.g. with herbicide-resistant weeds).  Thus, their use has not resolved our pesticide conundrum. Encouragingly, research is ongoing to find synthetic pesticides that have high specificity for their target pests. Alternative, non-chemical forms of pest control that are less toxic to humans and other organisms are also being studied [14].  Chances are good that these efforts will become part of the permanent solution.

Jennifer J. Hsiao is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program at Harvard University

This article is part of the August 2015 Special Edition, Genetically Modified Organisms and Our Food.


  1. Pesticides. (24 March 2015). NIH.
  1. Benefits of Pesticide Use. (27 June 2012). Environmental Protection Agency.
  1. Human Health Issues. (17 October 2014). Environmental Protection Agency.
  1. Kamel, Freya. Paths from Pesticides to Parkinson’s. (16 August 2013).  Science.
  1. Long-term pesticide exposure may increase risk of diabetes. (4 June 2008). National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
  1. Sanborn M, Kerr KJ, Sanin LH, Cole DC, Bassil KL, Vakil C. Non-cancer health effects of pesticides. (October 2007). Can Fam Physician. 53: 1712-1720.
  1. Mendelsohn M, Kough J,Vaituzis Z, Matthews K. 2003. Are Bt crops safe? (September 2003). Nat. Biotechnol. 21:1003–9.
  1. Malakof D. and Stokstad E. Pesticide Planet (infographic). (16 August 2013). Science.
  1. Cressey D. Widely used herbicide linked to cancer. (24 March 2015). Scientific American.
  1. Fernandez-Cornejo J, Wechsler SJ, Livingston M. Adoption of genetically engineered crops by U.S. farmers has increased steadily for over 15 years. (4 March 2014). USDA.
  1. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC monographs volume 12: evaluation of 5 organophosphate insecticides and herbicides. (20 March 2015). World Health Organization.
  1. Barfoot P and Brookes G. Key global environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996-2012. (3 November 2014). Landes Bioscience.
  1. Food and Pesticides. (20 March 2015). Environmental Protection Agency.
  1. Agricultural Pesticides. (27 June 2012). Environmental Protection Agency.
  1. Riley P, Cotter J, Contiero M, Watts M. Executive summary and report: Herbicide tolerance and GM crops. (June 2011).  GM Freeze and Greenpeace


Featured image by the Global Water Partnership and licensed by Creative Commons.


107 thoughts on “GMOs and Pesticides: Helpful or Harmful?

  1. After extensive research, it is evident that the use of GMOs and roudup is against the design of how the earth has been designed to produce crops, there is a definitely the short-term benefit of the use of such products in terms of eradicating weeds and pests. However, the use of such chemicals and genetically modified organisms cause several issues which include:

    Harmful to animals and humans who eat the animals
    Harmful to Humans; causes cancer and many such diseases
    Decreases the richness of the soil
    Nature adapts, thus giving birth to super weeds and super pests, which means that stronger chemicals will need to be used such as the existing plans to add Agent Organge to roundup which was used in Vietnam during the war

    Studies done on the producer of GMOs, Pesticides and Insecticides have been done by the funding and internally by Monsanto the producer of such products, however, indepenent studies have been prohibited.

    Trying to go against nature to attempt to yield greater results, only leads to the attempters’ own demise

    1. Incorrect. Many companies manufacture glyphosate. The patent has expired. Glyphosate has replaced riskier herbicides, is less Toxic than salt, and it’s use with GE crops has led to reduced diesel use.

      1. @ Mr. Bjerregarrd:
        I am certainly no “anti-GMO” activist, or anything of the like. But I do feel the need to comment on your post. Glyphosate is indeed “less toxic than salt” based on a standard LD-50 test of acute toxicity, but the concerns that have been raised about the herbicide are not about its acute toxicity (which is indeed low). They are rather about its possible long-term carcinogenity, which is quite a different assessment. The unfortunate reality is that its very difficult to accurately assess the cancer-causing risk of any substance. I think the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate remains uncertain. Based on my research I would say it’s probably quite low-risk under normal levels of exposure, but again, it’s difficult to completely rule something out in terms of risk.

        In the end, I would agree much of what you say. I think that the focus on glyphosate with relation to GMO technology is perhaps misplaced, as many farmers use other herbicides with comparable or worse risk profiles on both GMO and non-GMO crops as well, and again I think it’s not a high-risk chemical, but I have to say that it’s misleading to assert that glyphosate is “less toxic than salt” and thus devoid of any risk or concern at all.

        I am fine with the judicious use of pesticides as part of a comprehensive Integrated Pest Management program, and think that going completely “pesticide-free” is unrealistic (even for organic farmers). Having said that, I also feel that ongoing research and periodic reassessment of our agricultural practices and the chemicals used is advised.

    2. Incorrect Felix. Many independent studies. have been done. @ of the most obvious are the U. of Perugia and U. C. Davis studies. All agriculture goes against nature from the moment one begins to clear land. The rest of your claims are nonsense.

    3. We started going against nature the first time some guy put on a condom. We started going against nature the first time someone dug oil out of the ground to power cars.
      We started going against nature THE FIRST TIME WE GREW CROPS.
      You can believe it’s going against nature, but the food you’re eating, any synthetic clothes you’re wearing, any surgeries or medicine you’ve taken– by your logic, it’s ALL against nature.
      If you want to stay true to what you’ve said, go be a hunter-gatherer.

  2. Hello, does anyone have any idea how pesticides affect plant animal and human CELLS, or there cell biology? Please get back to me ASAP thank you.

    1. Re-read the article! Perhaps it’s too technical for a general audience, but if something isn’t clear, just ask.

      1. I am not sure whether insecticide usage has increased in the past few years due to the presence of Bt-tolerant insects (that’s the question you want answered, right?). But this study from 2014 suggests that insecticide use was still decreased at that time (especially on GM crops):

        Note that organic crops actually use more Bt than GM crops can produce, so you’d expect problems from that as well.

        In response to the study you posted, that study fed mice way more Cry protein than you’d expect to be exposed to by eating GM crops (I’m not sure about organic, but I would guess it’s still way more). Here’s my back-of-the-envelope calculation: the smallest amount of Cry they give to mice is 27mg/kg. The average human weighs ~80kg. So you’d need to eat 2.16g of Cry protein to get 27mg/kg. GM corn has ~1.4ng (1ng = .000000001g) of Cry protein per mg of corn kernel ( This means you’d have to eat 1542857g (or 1542 kg–19X the body weight of the average human) of corn kernels to eat even the smallest amount of Cry protein tested in this study. A lot of non-toxic things become toxic in huge doses (even water!), so it’s a bit hard to judge the actual effects of Cry proteins from that study.

        If you want to read more about Bt crops–we have an article in this same edition:

      2. Hi Anthony, you posted a link to an interesting article about toxicity of Bt to mice.
        First, I should stress that greenmedinfo is a notorious pseudoscience website. The article was written by a massage therapist who is an anti-Monsanto activist. This is not automatically disqualifying, but reason for great caution!

        I have two main objections to the mouse study: firstly, the authors did not use a true negative control (spores without the toxin). Secondly, while I don’t have the numbers in front of me, if my memory serves me correctly, these levels of Bt could only be achieved if humans consumed thousands of kilos of Bt sweet corn, every day—not recommended.

        A more thorough discussion of the general topic of Bt safety can be found here:

        1. My friend please get a blood and urine test. It will show glyphosate. This is the largest mass contamination.
          Please check yourself. Why are we doing this?
          You do eat pounds of BT Corn weekly.
          High Fructose Corn Syrup- which sweetens 98% of everything including glyphosate sprayed wheat bread….Is a concentrated isolate of BT Corn.

          Want a list of where the BT Corn is????
          As it turns out, there are a few hundred ingredients that fall under the classification is, or can be, derived from corn. This information is not to scare you, but to help you be an informed consumer, and hopefully help you avoid those pesky corn based ingredients.

          Let’s review the usual suspects:
          Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)
          Baking Powder (corn starch)
          Brown Sugar – look for use of Caramel color. Domino’s Brown sugar no longer uses Caramel color
          Calcium Citrate – the calcium salt of citric acid. See Citrate below for details.
          Caramel – coloring used in soft drinks, derived from corn “or cane sugar.” The “or” in Coca-Cola’s explanation refers to a temporary change to make the ingredients Kosher for Passover. The rest of the year, it is from corn.
          Cellulose, Vegetable, Powered, etc.
          Citrate – can refer either to the conjugate base of citric acid, or to the esters of citric acid. An example of the former, a salt is trisodium citrate; an ester is triethyl citrate. Forms of Citrate include: Calcium Citrate, Magnesium Citrate, Potassium Citrate, Sodium Citrate, and more.
          Citric Acid – the source sugar is corn steep liquor along with hydrolyzed corn starch
          Corn Meal – items baked sitting on Corn Meal such as Bagels, Breads or Pizza, may not list Corn Meal as an ingredient
          Corn Starch – in most over the counter medicines that come in a dry pill form. Yes, this includes Benedryl too. Watch for Corn Syrup in the liquid forms.
          Corn Syrup
          Decyl Glucoside – used in personal care products such as shampoo. It is produced by the reaction of glucose from corn starch with the fatty alcohol decanol which is derived from coconut.
          Dextrin, Maltodextrin – thickening agents found in sauces (check those frozen veggies!) salad dressings, and ice cream
          Dextrose (glucose) – corn sugar, found in cookies, ice cream, and paired with glucose in hospital IVs unless specified not to! Can also be used as a carrier with anesthetic shots such as Lidocaine and Novocaine! Dextrose is also injected into meat, lunch meats and deli cuts. Be weary of “honey baked” items, the sweet flavor may not be from honey.
          Ethanol – made by fermenting sugars produced from corn starch.
          Ferrous Gluconate – i.e. as found in canned olives, and comes from corn or potato acid.
          Flavoring – Artificial or “Natural Flavors” – as defined by the FDA regulations of labeling of spices, flavorings, and colorings.
          Golden Syrup – Sometimes recommended as an alternate to Corn Syrup, but it may contain Corn Syrup as well.
          Honey – May contain corn syrup, as HFCS is sometimes fed to bees, resulting in corn in the honey produced.
          Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
          Iodized Salt – Morton’s FAQ explains why they add Dextrose (corn) to their salt.
          Lactic Acid – Commercially, lactic acid can be made synthetically from chemicals or organically as a byproduct of corn fermentation.
          Lauryl Glucoside – is a surfactant used in cosmetics. It is a glycoside produced from glucose and lauryl alcohol.
          Magnesium Citrate – Magnesium salt of citric acid.
          Magnesium Stearate
          Malic Acid
          Malt Flavoring
          Maltitol – (also known as Maltisorb and Maltisweet) Commercially, maltitol is a disaccharide produced by Corn Products Specialty Ingredients (formerly SPI Polyols), Cargill, Roquette, and Towa, among other companies. Maltitol is made by hydrogenation of maltose obtained from starch.
          Mannitol – A naturally occurring alcohol that is often combined with corn derived sugars. Here is the link on USDA’s website explaining this practice.
          Methyl Gluceth – an emollient used in cosmetics manufactured from corn sugar and corn starch.
          Modified Food Starch
          Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – The MSGMyth site explains MSG is made from corn.
          Polydextrose – is synthesized from dextrose, and contains sorbitol and citric acid. It is a food ingredient classified as soluble fiber and is frequently used to increase the non-dietary fiber content of food, replace sugar, reduce calories and reduce fat content. Note: Dextrose, Sorbitol, and Citric Acid are all on this list of ingredients derived from corn.
          Polylactic Acid (PLA) – Plastic made from corn starch (U.S.) or sugarcane.
          Polysorbates (i.e. Polysorbate 80) – Polysorbates are oily liquids derived from PEG-ylated sorbitan (a derivative of sorbitol) esterified with fatty acids.
          Potassium Citrate – See Citrate above for details.
          Powdered Sugar – contains corn starch
          Saccharin – in powder form IS Sweet’N Low and therefore contains Dextrose.
          Sodium Citrate – See Citrate above for details.
          Sodium Erythorbate – is produced from sugars derived from sources such as beets, sugar cane and corn. It is a food additive used predominantly in meats, poultry, and soft drinks.
          Sodium Starch Glycolate – is the sodium salt of a carboxymethyl ether of starch. It can be derived from any starch source (rice, corn, potatoes, etc).
          Sorbitan – is a mixture of chemical compounds derived from the dehydration of sorbitol.
          Sorbitan Monostearate – an ester of sorbitol and stearic acid. You will see this ingredient used in Yeast (and possibly other places as well).
          Sorbitol – You will find Sorbitol in Sugar Free items such as candy, chewing gum, cosmetics, mouth wash, and toothpaste
          Starch – often this is corn starch unless it specifies something else, like potato starch
          Sucralose – Sucralose by itself may be corn free, though it is likely one best to avoid. Repackaged as the brand Splenda, it will contain dextrose and/or maltodextrin.
          Sweet’N Low – contains Dextrose, and according to Sweet’N Low, ALL sugar substitutes in powder form contain Dextrose.
          Tocopherol (Vitamin E)
          Vanilla Extract – most brands will have corn syrup, though you can find organic brands that do not, though the alcohol may be corn-derived.
          Vinegar, Distilled White – can be made from any sugar, but the most common method is to use corn that has been converted from starch into sugar.
          Vitamins – Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) and Vitamin E (Tocopherols). Use caution with products that are “enriched” with added vitamins. The vitamins may be corn-derived, or corn-derivatives may be used in the binding (if solid) or suspension (if liquid) of the vitamin compound.
          Xanthan Gum – a food additive that is used as a thickening agent. It is found in sauces, spices, and commonly in Gluten Free foods. Xanthan Gum is most often grown on corn, or corn sugars. If an item includes Xanthan Gum and states it is corn-free, call the manufacturing company and inquire as to the source of Xanthan Gum to be sure.
          Xylitol – You will find Xylitol in Sugar Free items such as candy, chewing gum, cosmetics, mouth wash, and toothpaste
          Zein – used in time-release medications, derived from Maize

          This list is not all inclusive of ingredients to avoid. Tip offs can be the generic use of ingredients without specifying their nature, for example: “natural” flavor, vegetable (which vegetable?), starch (which starch?), syrup, and so on.

          1. Foolish comment followed by a meaningless list. Look up MRLs and the LD 50 of glyphosate. It is less toxic than salt.

          2. Where did you get the idea of a glyphosate blood test? Glyphosate is very hard to test in complex “matrices” such as milk or blood. Why are you so concerned about traces of this herbicide, versus the thousands of other substances that can be detected?

            And no, I do not eat pounds of ‘Bt corn’ weekly. As you probably know, Bt is one of the most widely used pesticides in organic agriculture, but I seldom eat “organic”. Bt is one of the safest pesticides on the market, so why do you focus on it?

          3. Thank you Jean for your post on corn. I am allergic to corn (one of 1 to 3 % of Americans). Going through the grocery store reading the teeny type of food ingredients is always a challenge. I owe Corn Allergy Girl a world of thanks also!

  3. I’m a middle school student doing a debate on GMOs. Do they help rid the world of pesticides and if so, is that a good thing?

    1. As you can see in this article, GMOs can reduce the use of the synthetic insecticides and non-glyphosphate herbicides. However they increase the use of glyphosphate, which is a relatively safe pesticide, though still a potential carcinogen (and therefore possibly dangerous to our health!). It is theoretically possible that newer GM technologies might be able to reduce pesticide use even more (though they could also have the opposite effect if not monitored carefully!). There are many kinds of GMOs, so they don’t all have the same effects–we have more articles about GMOs that might be helpful to you here:

    2. TO BE CLEAR-

      GMO and BT (BIOLOGICALLY TOXIC) GMO’s have over DOUBLED the use of ROUNDUP (Glyphosate) Pesticides.
      PLEASE NOTE THE GRAPH ABOVE SHOW .08 of use in 1998 and 2007 it is over 2.00
      It is a 10 year old graph!!!!
      You have roundup (glyphosate) in your blood and urine!!!!!! And Monsato is the ONLY ONE DOING IT TO US!!!!

      1. Incorrect. Many companies manufacture glyphosate. The patent has expired. Glyphosate has replaced riskier herbicides, is less Toxic than salt, and it’s use with GE crops has led to reduced diesel use.

      2. Can you tell us where you got your information about blood levels of glyphosate? I haven’t come across any credible scientific literature on this subject.

      3. You do realize that Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, and is only harmful to the larva of certain insects?

        1. BT is not a chemical but rather a bacteria who lives in soil, that produces proteins that are toxic to the larva and other insects upon ingestion. BT has no effect on mammals because mammals cannot breakdown the protein, so it just passes through the body. Most pesticides contain BT to safely target insect larva. Pest control companies, like in Oklahoma City, who offer “green pest control”, generally use a solution high in BT. So BT is not just being used on crops but also for insect home defense.

      4. May I recommend that you view the documentary titled “Food Evolution.” Maybe then you’ll get your facts straight. And learn how to spell. Monsanto*

  4. Jennifer, thanks for this article. The graph showing the use of insecticide on Bt corn (shown dropping to zero) was dated 2013. I’m wondering if that effect is holding up, given the growth of Bt-resistant strains (as discussed, for example, in this article:

    Also, Dr. Olins, it would be nice if you could cite the research you reviewed on the impact of glyphosate on gut bacteria. The research literature on GMO effects on food safety is notoriously thin–any academic research in this area would be very interesting.

      1. Sorry that you are having trouble! Can you please tell me where comments appear to be blocked so that I can fix the issue? We have to manually approve all comments to eliminate spam, so that’s why they are sometimes slow to appear. E-mail us at: sitnbostonblog[at]gmail[dot]com.


  5. Pingback: Quora
    1. Monsanto has kept the use of glyphosate (Roundup) on the market by hiding behind the fact that glyphosate on interrupts the PLANT metabolic pathway (shikimate pathway). Since humans DON’T have the shikimate pathway, no harms…Well Monsanto fails to mention that human gut bacteria DO have the shikimate pathway and are interrupted in such a way causing harmful bacteria and their wastes to affect our brain chemistry (Autism, Alzheimers, appetite out of control).

      Watch the interview the the MIT researcher linking glyphosate to Autism, Alzheimers, obesity –

      1. I can find no evidence that human gut bacteria are significantly affected by the traces of glyphosate in our diet. (One study estimated that typical exposure was of the order of 1 microgram per kilogram body weight—a microgram is about 1/1000 the weight of a mosquito).

        Don’t forget that salt, sugar, alcohol and vinegar all affect the growth of bacteria: what matters is the combination of dose and inherent antimicrobial potency.

        (BTW Jerry, mercola is a website that sells products and “remedies”. I have never found it to be an accurate source of scientific information).

        1. Dr. Mercola does have a substantial background in traditional medicine, regardless of what his website has on it. I’d be interested to know what study you are referring to, Dr. Olins, that mentions the effects of glyphosate in our diet. I’m doing a research paper about GMO’s and their safety.

          1. Well don’t use this poorly researched tripe as a source. Try the biofortified site. Or just look at the 20 plus years of safe use.

        2. Perhaps you cannot find evidence because GMO manufacturers have obstructed any animal trials past three months, and any human trials at all. This obstruction alone is enough for me to have abandoned the GMO diet years ago. The “prove it harmful before we prove it safe” method is not a logical one. But by all means, to you and your family with your GMO menus… bon apetite.

          1. Unless you are a sadist, you do not experiment on animals (let alone humans) unless you have a strong scientific rationale for doing so. If you can offer some evidence, a plausible hypothesis, and then outline the design of a feasible research study, I’d be more than glad to discuss.

            BTW if you want to learn about this field, you are going to need to get your information from a different source — not a political activist who has no scientific training.

          2. You have the privilege to be a conspiracionist and ignore science. People starving don’t.

          1. Science is not decided in court. Was any new scientific evidence presented in court ? Or did lawyers just demonise a company that everyone already hates? How could Monsanto possibly ever get a fair trial when 80% of the population just some how “knows” that Monsanto is an “evil” company?

          2. Don’t forget that salt, sugar, alcohol, and vinegar all affect the growth of bacteria: what matters is the combination of dose and inherent antimicrobial potency.

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          3. Well, now that Bauer has won 6 or so in a row. Do you still want to look to the courts?

        3. For those of you who don’t believe that GMO’s are the new solution, I will put this the nicest way as possible. You do realize that so many people were saved because of the less use of pesticides.

          1. Thats a good point, but what about crop loss in relation to pests destroying crops because they arent being controlled. Grasshoppers in Saskatchewan is a perfect example of this

        4. @Peter Olins Your assessment is dated.

          This is troubling from a gut health standpoint. This makes a strong case why we should switch to organic foods.

          “Although the acute toxic effects of glyphosate and AMPA on mammals are low, there are animal data raising the possibility of health effects associated with chronic, ultra-low doses related to accumulation of these compounds in the environment. Intensive glyphosate use has led to the selection of glyphosate-resistant weeds and microorganisms. Shifts in microbial compositions due to selective pressure by glyphosate may have contributed to the proliferation of plant and animal pathogens. Research on a link between glyphosate and antibiotic resistance is still scarce but we hypothesize that the selection pressure for glyphosate-resistance in bacteria could lead to shifts in microbiome composition and increases in antibiotic resistance to clinically important antimicrobial agents.”

      2. Mercola??? Anyone posting something from Mercola is marked as knowledge free on the topic. That interview is nothing but correlation. Organic food sales and cell phone use also correlate. Plus even the autism experts say that the syndrome definition has been expanded and that is why there are more diagnoses.

    2. Yes, Laura,
      Your link shows how surfactants (i.e. soaps) can be more toxic to cultured animal cells than the pesticides that accompany them. Don’t you find this encouraging? !

      There are very few people on earth who do not use surfactants on a daily basis, and I’m sure you are no exception.

      1. The benefits of GMO crops are largely speculative. We don’t know if they will turn out to handle bad weather better, or if they will end up delivering more vitamins per piece of fruit, or if they will end up having more yield per acre. Even the best studies touting these advantages are unconvincing. This study she posted suggests that Pesticides like Glysophate, the most used pesticide ROUND UP in GMO farming is more dangerous than previously thought. Also, 2,4+D was recently removed from the market by the EPA. And neoniconoids have been found in tests to disorient and ultimately kill the bees on a massive scale. These are very bad things to put in our food and there are non-pesticide ways of controlling insects which work just as well. No one has a problem with organic local farming done without pesticides and herbicides. It’s great for the local economies. It’s responsive to consumers. It’s healthier according to recent studies. And it’s what people actually want. GMOs tend to be supporting global corporate profiteering, factory farming, and INCREASED pesticide usage. If you look at pesticide use over 20 years, it has INCREASED. We were told it would DECREASE. Nature is unpredictable. We don’t need to add a corporatist profiteer model over growing our food. People don’t want it. And it’s unnecessary. ANY additional health risk because of pesticides, herbicides and even monocultures is unacceptable. Even a tiny risk when it’s applied to 1/3 of the planet’s food supply is too big of a risk. The tech our way out of the problem only solution is failing as pesticide usage is rising. We need to return to weeding and crop rotation and local organic farming.

        1. How many acres have you weeded in your lifetime?

          Can you be more specific about the “we” when you say that “…we need to return to weeding.”? Do you have a plan to incentivize all these weeders, or do you think a voluntary program will be sufficient?

          1. I believe the NIH recognition of glyohosphate as a carcinogen is something of a motivator, along with the several countries that have banned GMO in favor of what REALLY is traditional agriculture. Perhaps you have been asleep, but there is a huge movement toward small-scale community ag, so I think plenty of folks are motivated. Sure, the mainstream masses may not be just yet, but if we can get biotech and big pharma out of government, we can begin a large scale educational project. Gardening is good for you. The exercise, mood-enhancing, vegetable heavy lifestyle is a natural preventive for disease and cancer. BTW, it doesn’t take much research to figure you as a biotech tool. Just because you like manipulating genes doesn’t mean we’re willing to be your lab rats. Funny though, you love GMO but are so wary of gluten….

          2. Hi Steve,
            You raised a host of topics in your previous comment, and many more in your latest! There’s no way that a thread like this could accomodate them all.

            My question was about weeding. Weeds are a major drain on the world’s food supply, and a cause of major drudgery among agricultural workers. From personal experience, I can tell you that hand-weeding of vegetables is back-breaking work; while weeding of grain crops is impractical. (Like you, I am a strong advocate for personal gardening as a hobby, but this mustn’t be confused with agriculture).

            I’m not aware of any definitive statement from the NIH about glyphosate carcinogenicity. Feel free to correct me. Most, if not all, the world’s regulatory agencies have decided that the normal levels of exposure do not pose a significant cancer risk. Probably the most vulnerable population, farmers, show no evidence of a problem. So while it’s important to be cautious, it’s also important to take into consideration the relative weight of all the thousands of risks that we confront in our lives.

            You’ll need to be more specific in your comment about “banning” GMOs. Despite approval by European safety agencies, many European governments (politicians, not scientists) have banned the cultivation of GMOs. This seems hypocritical, since Europe imports about 50 million TONS of feed, primarily GMO-based. In other words, the EU seems to be very anti-farmer.

            Contrary to what you claim, the world is becoming increasingly urbanized and specialized, with fewer people depending on inefficient subsistence agriculture. I get the sense that you romanticize the peasant lifestyle, but poor farming productivity is a major limitation in the education and equality of girls and women.

            As you point out, I worked for many years engineering genes, so I feel qualified to have an opinion about the application of this technology. Do you have a problem with this?

            As far as gluten is concerned, my wife is an excellent baker, and I eat bread almost every day. As you may know, wheat can grow in a wide range of conditions, and is the largest source of dietary protein on earth; however, it still has its problems. There have been some exciting recent results in engineering disease-resistance into wheat, which could help bolster the world’s nutrition, but it will take political will and science-based decision making in order for these approaches to be applied to wheat. I encourage you to make more of an effort to learn about this field before becoming fixed in your attitudes.

          3. Depends on what you call weeds… and you can CRIMP them as Mulch and seed into that or steam the weeds and then drill seeds into it chemical uses…needed

        2. Steve, You mix so many things into your brew of fear , it is hard to respond. But consider- like the national debt is still increasing it is growing slower than it would if not for budget controls. Similarly, crop acreage has increased substantially in the past decades – so we would expect pesticide use to increase. But is has grown at slower rate and for many crops has decreased on a per/acre basis.
          You can rant about corporations & we will join to some extent but is irrelevant to the discussion of this paper.
          Again and again organic produce has been demonstrated to be no better tasting, not more nutritional, and no better for the environment- just more expensive. A triumph of style and marketing over sound science.

          1. you comment that “again and again” organic produce has been demonstrated this and that.. I am sorry – but that sound like a joke to me.. Do you believe that yourself?

          2. al, i don’t see what the national debt has to do with this discussion. we are in debt as a nation, not due to good schools, nor feeding the hungry, but we are in debt as most the money goes into war toys. Hence it has nothing to do with this conversation

          3. I live in central Europe, with closed eyes I cannot distinguish the taste of a plum from a tomato or basil from parsley and dill, if bought in the shop/MARKET! But I certainly can from our garden, which has not been fertilized by anything. Visually- no question about that, the bought ones are superior in their appearance, the garden ones I have to share with snails&co. But who cares about that? At this stage scientists do not know enough about creation, the objective science talks about two aspects- external and internal features. Tastes and scents refer to the internal features and I am sorry but if basil, the most scented herb, cannot be distinguished from dill therefore from spinach, I might make pesto straight from spinach. What is use of such science?

          1. Bio-major, pesticide is a generic term that can encompass herbicides and/or insecticides. So…?

          2. I’m sorry, looks like you haven’t done your research.
            Herbicides are a type of pesticide, so.

            What do you have to say now?

        3. Many more would surely starve as prices go up and production goes down. Switching to solar and wind (and developing methods of energy production from tides) should reduce acres producing corn (a good thing, as a desert is slowly being caused by irrigation from the Ogallala aquifer) but the primary problem is actually overpopulation (and no end in sight for the rise). Educate women worldwide on reproduction using evidence and give, not sell, them the contraceptives they want. This always raises living standards, helping to get better-educated moms, etc. Life is so much better now that the rates of childhood diseases that used to kill many are lower, but we have to adjust.

          1. Guys, let’s get serial for a second, guys… everyone knows that only dumb hippies question science that’s funded by large industries. Especially science that’s done by regulatory agencies that’ve been captured by the industries they’re charged with regulatin.
            It’s simply a lot easier to spray stuff all over plants – to get the largest possible yield and bang for your buck – than it is to worry about public health.
            I mean, public health doesn’t pay the bills and keep the lights on in the chemical factories, amiright?
            We all just need to take a breath and relax, and know that the industry-captured regulatory agencies have nothing but our best interests in the back of their minds (they might not be in the front… but at least they’re somewhere in there).
            It’s just not an easy thing to safely and responsibly generate so much food and make large profits at the same time… so if we have to resort to using low-grade poisons to get as much food out as possible, we just have to swallow that bitter pill.
            Honestly, I think people are more worried about starving than they’re worried about massive corporate profits being made at the expense of their health.
            Let’s get real, guys… come on, guys, let’s get real.

          2. I agree with the fact that women should be more educated, I truly believe that is the key to improving our species as a whole. I definitely agree with you that having fewer children leads to a higher quality of life. However, you mention overpopulation as the primary problem. The thing is, worldwide we produce enough food to feed ten billion people. The problem is, a large amount of it is wasted due to three things: firstly, an large businesses throwing away unsightly foods (especially produce) in order to sell better, or throwing away large batches of food because they’ve hit the best before date– keep in mind that the best before date in no way means it’s unsafe to eat afterwards. This first problem is one we can solve quickly- there are programs being created the world over that are using the perfectly good discarded food from farms and grocery stores to feed the hungry.
            The second problem is a lack of infrastructure. Simply put, food goes bad. In many third world countries, not having proper fridges and freezers means that a vast quantity of food is wasted. This step will take more time, but if we can make fridges more accessible, and develop ways of keeping food good over longer periods of time, then we will be able to ship food around the world without concern that some of it will be lost every trip.
            The third is perhaps the most pressing reason- not overpopulation, but poverty. We may have all the food we could ever need, but the truth is that many cannot even afford it. As you said, when prices go up, people starve. As climate change happens, droughts and storms cause crops to die. When pollutant run-off from big manufacturers contaminate local water sources, there is nothing to water the crops.
            There are a thousand reasons why people starve every day. Practically none of them are due to overpopulation. To really solve the problem, we have to look deeper than what our grade eight textbooks told us.

    3. I’m having problems with dog and cat food with corn in it killind plants . I think that round up is getting in the corn. Grain though the ground ..and animal food is acting like round up. Is killed trees and vegitaion.

    4. For those who think the author is not credible, you do realize that this is a Harvard website, as she made it into Harvard.

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