Scientists question herbicide-resistant crops
ENDS Daily - 20/02/97
Genetically-engineered herbicide resistant crop varieties will not be environmentally beneficial in the long term, according to a study prepared for the Dutch government. Dutch scientists have concluded that herbicide resistance will encourage chemical dependence. They are urging farmers to view herbicide-resistant crops as a "last resort".
The study was carried out by scientists at two research institutes operating under the official Netherlands organisation for agricultural research, DLO-NL. It assesses environmental and economic costs and benefits of several approaches to cultivating sugar beet and maize including organic techniques, integrated crop management, or herbicide-resistant crops.
Sugar beet and maize are important crops in the Netherlands, and a number of biotechnology companies are developing herbicide-resistant varieties for the Dutch market. Companies operating in the Netherlands, such as Agrevo and Advanta, say that herbicide-resistant crops will benefit the environment by encouraging use of more environmentally-friendly herbicides.
The study concludes that it could be justified in the short term, but that in the long term using herbicide- resistant crops would encourage chemical dependence. Jos Bijman, a researcher at the DLO agricultural economics institute told ENDS Daily: "We came to the conclusion that, in the short term, herbicide resistant plant varieties may have environmental and economic benefits; but in the long term other weed management techniques would be more environmentally beneficial because they use less chemicals."
Mr Bijman added, "The current focus on herbicide- resistant plants could take away incentives for farmers to develop non-chemical, more environmentally benign control methods."
The scientists recommend that the government should counterbalance commercial promotion of herbicide- resistant crops by supporting other solutions. They say the government should promote non-chemical weed management techniques and encourage farmers to consider herbicide-resistance as a "last resort" within integrated crop management regimes
They also call for independent monitoring where herbicide-resistant crops are grown in field trials or commercially.
Contacts: DLO-NL (http://www.bib.wau.nl/dlo/); Jos Bijman, LEI-DLO, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.