A major study of genetically-modified crops has just been released by the US National Academy of Science’s National Research Council. The report is described as “the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of genetically modified crops on American farmers.”
Chief benefits cited related to diminished use of especially harmful herbicides, increased use of no-till farming (which curtails soil erosion and rainwater run-off), and farmer productivity.
However, downsides, especially looking to the future, were also noted, with the report saying “overuse” threatens gains.
“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.”
But, said the Times, the chairman of the report team “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.”
More than 80 percent of the corn, soybean and cotton grown in the United States is genetically engineered. The crops tolerate Roundup, are resistant to insects, or both.
The Times article is comprehensive in reporting a full range of opinions about GE cropping. Well-worth a read.
The full report, as well as an executive summary and Powerpoint presentation, can be downloaded here.