The genetic modification debate on the merits and dangers of GM crops is a heated one. The pro-GM camp argues that genetic engineering of crops can increase their quality and nutritional value whereas the anti-GM camp fuels the discontent that scientists are just playing God and describes GM crops as unnatural and "Frankenstein foods."
One area of debate is whether genetically modifying crops is better than using insecticides in pest management.
Farmers use insecticides to maintain the quality of crop products. However, insecticides may have negative effects on human health and the environment in general. While insecticides protect the crops from target insects, they also significantly affect non-target insects. Thus scientists are attempting to genetically modify crops to reduce the reliance on insecticides.
Scientists have already provided evidence about the advantages of crops that contain genes from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). They found that many forms of Bt toxin affect only the target insects, lowering the risk of harmful effects to non-target beneficial insects. They also found out that Bt toxin is also harmless to humans and other mammals.
GM crops or insecticides?
To find out which one affects non-target insects more significantly, scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and researchers at the Iowa State University, University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency first compared the abundance of non-target insects in GM crops and non-GM crops without insecticides.
The scientists and researchers also compared the abundance of non-target insects in both types of crops with insecticides. They also compared the the population of these insects in GM crops without insecticides against the population in non-GM crops with insecticide treatment. They examined toxins like Cry3A in potato, Cry1Ac and Cry1Ab in cotton, and Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb in maize.
While the researchers observed significant variability in the effects of GM maize and cotton crops on non-target insects, within-group data were fairly consistent. They found that the most influential variable was the insecticide applied. Insecticides like organophosphates, pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, and carbamates had considerably more negative effects on non-target insects than did the GM crops.
They also found that regardless of whether they are in GM or non-GM crop fields, insecticides have uniform impacts on insect populations.