Study: GM Crop Cultivation Results In Increased Herbicide Use

Close-up of Corn There is still a delicate balance between being for and against GM crops. Proponents argue that it is the best way to increased food production to meet the needs of an increasing world population. Some of those who are against are decrying its safety, arguing that many of the biotech companies developing GM crops are out to increase profits rather than looking after the welfare of end consumers of such crops. Studies here and there try to highlight the benefits from both sides of the equation. But current scientific evidence seem to side with those who are concerned about the effects of GM crops to the environment and its inhabitants at large. One such evidence is based on a recent study that indicates the use of GM crops is resulting to an increasing use of powerful herbicides.

Research findings from a team of economists hailing from different universities in the US seem to indicate that the widespread adoption of GM crops has led to a decreased use of insecticides but has also resulted in an increase in weed-killing herbicides due to some weeds becoming more resistant to them. The said research is currently considered to be the largest study on GM crops  and pesticide use. The researchers analyzed annual data coming from more than 5,000 soybean and  5,000 maize farmers in the US covering the period from 1998 to 2011. This is more than the data analyzed by previous studies that only looked into one or two years’ worth of data.

According to Federico Ciliberto, an economist from the University of Virginia and lead author of the said study, “The fact that we have 14 years of farm-level data from farmers all over the US makes this study very special. We have repeated observations of the same farmers and can see when they adopted genetically modified seeds and how that changed their use of chemicals.”

Since 2008, genetically modified have accounted for more than 80 percent of soybean and maize crops cultivated in the US. The genetically modified soybean was developed to resist the effects of the powerful herbicide glyphosate. GM Maize also has a similar crop that can tolerate glyphosate in addition to another that is modified to kill the insect eating the maize seed used for cultivation.

The research findings indicate that those who used glyphosate resistant GM soybeans and maize showed a 20 percent increase of herbicide use during the 14-year period as compared to non-GM crops.

On the part of GM maize, the data also indicated that there was a 1.3 percent reduction of herbicide use in the first 13 years compared to non-GM maize. But the authors of the study attribute this to the slower adoption of GM maize as compared to GM soybean, the latter of which indicated a significant increase in herbicide use. But the study also found evidence that both GM maize and GM soybeans showed increased herbicide use in the last five years of data analyzed. Both groups indicate that weed resistance is the primary reason and a growing problem in the cultivation of both GM crops.

Data from 2006 to 2011 also showed that the percentage of cultivated areas sprayed with only glyphosate shrunk from 70 percent to 41 percent for soybean farmers and from 40 percent to 19 percent among maize farmers. This decrease came as a result of farmers having to resort to using additional chemicals in order to take care of the weed problem affecting their crops. The increased use of herbicides and other chemicals to control glyphosate-resistant weeds will become a growing environmental concern as more and more chemicals will be finding their way into farm lands and affect biodiversity. The increased use of herbicides and other chemicals may also pose a greater risk of water and air pollution, of which the effects on human health  may still need some further study.

Source: GM Watch

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