According to new research from University of Virginia economist Federico Ciliberto, widespread adoption of genetically modified crops has decreased the use of insecticides, but increased the use of weed-killing herbicides as weeds become more resistant.
Ciliberto led the largest study of genetically modified crops and pesticide use to date, alongside Edward D. Perry of Kansas State University, David A. Hennessy of Michigan State University and GianCarlo Moschini of Iowa State University. The four economists studied annual data from more than 5,000 soybean and 5,000 maize farmers in the U.S. from 1998 to 2011, far exceeding previous studies that have been limited to one or two years of data.
“The fact that we have 14 years of farm-level data from farmers all over the U.S. makes this study very special,” Ciliberto said. “We have repeated observations of the same farmers and can see when they adopted genetically modified seeds and how that changed their use of chemicals.”
Since 2008, genetically engineered crops have accounted for more than 80 percent of maize and soybean crops planted in the U.S. Maize seeds are modified with two genes: one kills insects that eat the seed and one allows the seed to tolerate glyphosate, a herbicide commonly used in weed killers like Roundup. Soybeans are modified with just one glyphosate-resistant gene.