Andrew Pollack reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Genetically engineered crops have provided ‘substantial’ environmental and economic benefits to American farmers, but overuse of the technology is threatening to erode the gains, a national science advisory organization said Tuesday in a report. [Full report available here, additional information regarding the report is available here].
“The report is described as the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of genetically modified crops on American farmers, who have rapidly adopted them since their introduction in 1996. The study was issued by the National Research Council, which is affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences and provides advice to the nation under a Congressional charter.
“The report found that the crops allowed farmers to either reduce chemical spraying or to use less harmful chemicals. The crops also had lower production costs, higher output or extra convenience, benefits that generally outweighed the higher costs of the engineered seeds.”
The Times article added that, “But Dr. Ervin [the chairman of the committee that wrote the report], a professor of environmental management and economics at Portland State University in Oregon, warned that farmers were jeopardizing the benefits by planting too many so-called Roundup Ready crops. These crops are genetically engineered to be impervious to the herbicide Roundup, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds while leaving the crops unscathed.
“Overuse of this seductively simple approach to weed control is starting to backfire. Use of Roundup, or its generic equivalent, glyphosate, has skyrocketed to the point that weeds are rapidly becoming resistant to the chemical. That is rendering the technology less useful, requiring farmers to start using additional herbicides, some of them more toxic than glyphosate.”
Scott Kilman reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Biotechnology is controversial among environmental activists, who worry that pollen from genetically modified crops can spread unwanted traits to organic farms. But the independent scientific group concluded that genetically modified crops on balance do less damage to the environment than conventional crops.”
“The authors of the report warned, however, that farmers would undermine the effectiveness of herbicide-tolerant crops if they didn’t begin using them more prudently. Several weeds in the Southern U.S. have already developed resistance to glyphosate, apparently because of repeated applications,” the Journal article said.
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “The focus of the study was to examine the effect of biotechnology on farm economics and sustainability. Reducing runoff into waterways, ‘may be the single-largest contribution of GE (genetically engineered) crops’ in improving the environment and creating more sustainable production practices, said one of the researchers, LaReesa Wolfenbarger, a biology professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, at a press conference broadcast over the internet.”
The DTN article added that, “Further, at least two pests have developed resistance to bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt corn and cotton varieties, though the economic and agronomic impacts of those resistant pests have been minimal thus far.
“Researchers recommended stakeholder groups and companies more aggressively examine the issues of increased weed resistance to glyphosate and other herbicides that may have less impact on the environment.”
Philip Brasher noted yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Last year, farmers used biotech seed for 86 percent of the corn, 91 percent of the soybeans and 88 percent of the cotton they planted nationwide last year, according to the Agriculture Department.
“John Heisdorffer, who farms west of Washington, Ia., is typical of many growers. He said saves on fuel and herbicide costs because he needs less of both, because Roundup replaces several chemicals he used previously and doesn’t have to be applied as frequently as they did. He also gets a discount of as much as $4 an acre on crop insurance because the biotech varieties are considered more reliable.”