GM Crops "Could Benefit Environment"
Writing in the Journal of Animal and Feed Sciences, two researchers at the University of Reading , UK, have suggested that the adoption of
genetically modified crops across the European Union could benefit rather than harm the environment. Dr Richard Phipps and Dr J. R. Park
argue that the introduction of herbicide tolerant soyabean, oil seed rape, cotton and maize and insect protected cotton reduced global pesticide
use by a total of 22.3 million kg of formulated product in 2000. Pesticide application is known to have adverse effects on human health and the
environment and can be a particular danger in developing countries where education on correct usage is poor and safety equipment may not
be available. Phipps and Park acknowledge that there are many controversial issues associated with the introduction of GM crops but have
reviewed the possible benefits that they could bring to European agriculture and their possible global impact. In the EU, pesticide usage has
already declined due to lower dose rates, better application technology, legislation, farm management practices and agri-environmental
schemes. However, Phipps and Park wanted to assess the potential of GM crops to further reduce pesticide use. The authors modelled the
introduction of herbicide-tolerant maize, oil seed rape and sugar beet and insect-protected cotton. They used data for the area of these crops
grown in the EU and standard pesticide programmes for ordinary crops and those used for GM varieties in order to estimate total pesticide use.
The authors concluded that if 50% of the maize, oil seed rape, sugar beet and cotton grown in the EU was of GM varieties, the total amount of
pesticide used would fall by 14.5 million kg of formulated product a year. This represents a decrease of 4.4 million kg of active ingredient. The
total area sprayed would also be reduced by 7.5 million hectares. This reduction in overall area sprayed would bring an additional
environmental benefit of less diesel use. Phipps and Park estimate that less spraying would save 20.5 million litres of diesel and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere by 73,000 tonnes. The benefits of GM crops could grow if, as a result of
expansion, larger cotton growing countries such as Turkey entered the EU.
The authors acknowledge that the size of reduction in pesticide use varies with the crop considered. For herbicide tolerant soyabeans, a
reduction of only 10% is found. However, for insect-protected cotton, a highly significant reduction of 60% is recorded. An additional
environmental benefit for GM soyabeans is that they can be grown using conservation tillage techniques which could be significant for
developing countries as well as some parts of the EU.
Phipps and Park conclude in their paper that they welcome rigorous investigation of the impact of GM crops in the EU but are surprised that
some of the potentially positive aspects of the introduction of GM crops appear to have been ignored. They suggest that if European
consumers were shown the list of sprays used on conventional crops compared with those for GM crops, a more positive attitude towards
agricultural biotechnology might emerge. A similar survey conducted in Canada revealed that 60% of consumers selected GM varieties
rather than conventional varieties when the spraying regime was explained.
The paper, entitled "Environmental benefits of genetically modified crops: Global and European perspectives on their ability to reduce
pesticide use", was published in the Journal of Animal and Feed Sciences (2002) Volume 11, pp. 1-18.
Contact: Dr R. H. Phipps, Department of Agriculture, University of Reading,
Earley Gate, PO Box 237, Reading, RG6 6AR, UK.
Tel: +44 (118) 9318494
Fax: +44 (118) 9352421