Farming's genetic revolution has yet to materialise

July 07, 1999

Most American farmers who have turned to genetically engineered crops seem to be getting yields no better than farmers who grow traditional varieties. They also appear to be using similar quantities of pesticides.

Last week, the US Department of Agriculture released figures for 1997 and 1998 on the performance of modified cotton, maize and soya beans. Some of the genetically modified crops produce an insecticide called Bt. Others are modified to tolerate high doses of the herbicide glyphosate.

To study the use of pesticides on these crops, the USDA divided the country into various different regions. In seven of the 12 combinations of crops and regions, farmers using modified crops had had to add the same quantities of pesticides to their fields as those growing non-modified crops. To study yields, the USDA looked at 18 crop/region combinations. In 12 of them, yields of modified crops were no better.

Companies promoting genetically modified crops have argued that farmers growing them will benefit from improved yields and reduced pesticide costs. And they are taking heart from some improvements seen within the USDA's analysis. In one region in the Midwest, for instance, farmers planting Bt maize had yields 30 per cent higher than those growing ordinary crops. "The analysis shows that crop biotechnology works," claims Margaret Spike of the American Crop Protection Association in Washington DC.

USDA officials, however, admit that at face value the figures don't provide much support for those who argue that genetic engineering will bring about a revolution in agriculture. But USDA economic analyst Ralph Heimlich warns that the study could be misleading. For instance, farmers who have embraced modified crops might have had worse problems with pests to begin with.
-end-
Author: Kurt Kleiner, Washington DC
New Scientist magazine issue 7th July 1999

PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE OF THIS STORY



New Scientist

Related Pesticides Articles from Brightsurf:

More plant diversity, less pesticides
Increasing plant diversity enhances the natural control of insect herbivory in grasslands.

In pursuit of alternative pesticides
Controlling crop pests is a key element of agriculture worldwide, but the environmental impact of insecticides is a growing concern.

Two pesticides approved for use in US harmful to bees
A previously banned insecticide, which was approved for agricultural use last year in the United States, is harmful for bees and other beneficial insects that are crucial for agriculture, and a second pesticide in widespread use also harms these insects.

Dingoes have gotten bigger over the last 80 years - and pesticides might be to blame
The average size of a dingo is increasing, but only in areas where poison-baits are used, a collaborative study led by UNSW Sydney shows.

Pesticides can protect crops from hydrophobic pollutants
Researchers have revealed that commercial pesticides can be applied to crops in the Cucurbitaceae family to decrease their accumulation of hydrophobic pollutants, thereby improving crop safety.

Honeybee lives shortened after exposure to two widely used pesticides
The lives of honeybees are shortened -- with evidence of physiological stress -- when they are exposed to the suggested application rates of two commercially available and widely used pesticides.

Pesticides increase the risk of schistosomiasis, a tropical disease
Schistosomiasis is a severe infectious disease caused by parasitic worms.

A proposal to change environmental risk assessment for pesticides
Despite regulatory frameworks designed to prevent environmental damage, pesticide use is still linked to declines in insects, birds and aquatic species, an outcome that raises questions about the efficacy of current regulatory procedures.

SDHI pesticides are toxic for human cells
French scientists led by a CNRS researcher have just revealed that eight succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor pesticide molecules do not just inhibit the SDH activity of fungi, but can also block that of earthworms, bees, and human cells in varying proportions.

Pesticides deliver a one-two punch to honey bees
A new paper in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reveals that adjuvants, chemicals commonly added to pesticides, amplify toxicity affecting mortality rates, flight intensity, colony intensity, and pupae development in honey bees.

Read More: Pesticides News and Pesticides Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.