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article imageNational Research Council mixed on impacts of GE crops

By Stephanie Dearing     Apr 20, 2010 in Food
Genetically engineered crops are said to be profitable for farmers, requiring less inputs and providing greater harvest yields.
Washington - The United States National Reseach Council, which had been conducting an examination of the use of genetic engineering in agriculture has reached some interesting conclusions, available in a report, The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States, released April 13th. The Council concluded that genetically engineered crops present farmers a mixed challenge, providing both benefits and challenges, and quite possibly bioengineered agriculture might provide short-term gain for long-term pain.
Review committee chair, Dr. David Ervin, Professor of Environmental Management and Economics at Portland State University said in a release, "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. However, these benefits are not universal for all farmers. And as more GE traits are developed and incorporated into a larger variety of crops, it's increasingly essential that we gain a better understanding of how genetic engineering technology will affect U.S. agriculture and the environment now and in the future. Such gaps in our knowledge are preventing a full assessment of the environmental, economic, and other impacts of GE crops on farm sustainability."
The United States has been using genetically engineered seeds since 1996, but until now, there have been no comprehensive reviews or analysis into the impacts of the technology. GE crops are now the majority of all staples grown on farms in the United States.
Couched in terms of benefits to a farmer, the report emphasizes that GE crops are not all good, and in fact, warn biotech agriculture may have inherently negative impacts in the long term. The Council notes that while apparent benefits might exist, there are no systems in place to track the effects of GE crops, pointing to water systems as an example. In fact, the Council points out tracking and reporting systems for GE foods all around are missing, and thus it is difficult to quantify the presumed benefits of GE crops.
Although it initially costs a farmer more to grow biotech crops, the farmer will profit over time from either reduced input costs, higher crop yields or a combination of both. The Council also thinks the environment benefits because GE crops require less pesticides and herbicides than non-biotech crops. However, the Council also said "... these benefits have not been universal, some may decline over time, and potential benefits and risks may become more numerous as the technology is applied to more crops. "
The Council reccomends that farmers employ multiple practices to curtail weed growth and prevent the rise of the superweed, a weed resistent to commercial herbicides. Most importantly, farmers need to practice better management.
The Council also found that two insects had developed resistence to Bt, which is engineered into many mainstay crops, such as corn and soy.
The report is being used equally by both sides of the genetic engineering divide. The report's authors have stressed the importance of a holistic approach to reading the report.
In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization had reportedly called for a doubling of global agricultural production. However, the Soil Association has said that not only is the statement wrong, it is being used by biotech companies to push their agendas.
New research released just days after the National Research Councils' report on GE farming appears to show GE crops are more damaging to the environment than previously thought, damaging the soil itself.
Analysts are pointing to the recommendations for further research, saying the gaps in knowledge need to be reduced before providing a definitive analysis of the impacts of GE crops.
More about Biotechnology, Genetically modified plants, Crops, Farming, Superweeds
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