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Genetically Engineered Crops Benefit Many Farmers,
But The Technology Needs Proper Management to Remain Effective
The report provides the first comprehensive assessment of how GE crops are affecting all
"Many American farmers are enjoying higher profits due to the widespread use of certain genetically engineered crops and are reducing environmental impacts on and off the farm," said David Ervin, professor of environmental management and economics,
First introduced in 1996, genetically engineered crops now constitute more than 80 percent of soybeans, corn, and cotton grown in the
Farmers need to adopt better management practices to ensure that beneficial environmental effects of GE crops continue, the report says. In particular, farmers who grow GE herbicide-resistant crops should not rely exclusively on glyphosate and need to incorporate a range of weed management practices, including using other herbicide mixes. To date, at least nine species of weeds in the
Improvements in water quality could prove to be the largest single benefit of GE crops, the report says. Insecticide use has declined since GE crops were introduced, and farmers who grow GE crops use fewer insecticides and herbicides that linger in soil and waterways. In addition, farmers who grow herbicide-resistant crops till less often to control weeds and are more likely to practice conservation tillage, which improves soil quality and water filtration and reduces erosion.
However, no infrastructure exists to track and analyze the effects that GE crops may have on water quality. The U.S. Geological Survey, along with other federal and state environmental agencies, should be provided with financial resources to document effects of GE crops on
The report notes that although two types of insects have developed resistance to Bt, there have been few economic or agronomic consequences from resistance. Practices to prevent insects from developing resistance should continue, such as an EPA-mandated strategy that requires farmers to plant a certain amount of conventional plants alongside Bt plants in "refuge" areas.
Economic and Social Effects
In many cases, farmers who have adopted the use of GE crops have either lower production costs or higher yields, or sometimes both, due to more cost-effective weed and insect control and fewer losses from insect damage, the report says. Although these farmers have gained such economic benefits, more research is needed on the extent to which these advantages will change as pests adapt to GE crops, other countries adopt genetic engineering technology, and more GE traits are incorporated into existing and new crops.
The higher costs associated with GE seeds are not always offset financially by lower production costs or higher yields, the report notes. For example, farmers in areas with fewer weed and pest problems may not have as much improvement in terms of reducing crop losses. Even so, studies show that farmers value the greater flexibility in pesticide spraying that GE crops provide and the increased safety for workers from less exposure to harmful pesticides.
The economic effects of GE crops on farmers who grow organic and conventional crops also need further study, the report says. For instance, organic farmers are profiting by marketing their crops as free of GE traits, but their crops' value could be jeopardized if genes from GE crops flow to non-GE varieties through cross-pollination or seed mingling.
Farmers have not been adversely affected by the proprietary terms involved in patent-protected GE seeds, the report says. However, some farmers have expressed concern that consolidation of the
Research institutions should receive government support to develop GE traits that could deliver valuable public benefits but provide little market incentive for the private sector to develop. Examples include plants that decrease the likelihood of off-farm water pollution or plants that are resilient to changing climate conditions. Intellectual property that has been patented in developing major crops should be made available for these purposes whenever possible.
The study was funded by the National Research Council. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering,
Copies of The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources
Committee on the Impact of Biotechnology on Farm-Level Economics and Sustainability
David E. Ervin (chair)
Professor of Environmental Management
Professor of Economics
Department of Economics and Environmental Science and Management
Department of Entomology
William J. Cox
Professor of Crop Science
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Economic Research Service
Raymond A. Jussaume Jr.
Professor and Chair
Department of Community and Rural Sociology
Michele C. Marra
Professor of Agricultural Economics
Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
Micheal D.K. Owen
Professor of Agronomy
Peter H. Raven*
L. LaReesa Wolfenbarger
Department of Biology
Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF