Biotech Crops Good for the Environment

Published September 1, 2007

A new study reported in the July 8 issue of Science magazine shows crops genetically modified to resist insects and other pests are having a beneficial effect on the environment.

Research conducted by scientists at Santa Clara University, the Nature Conservancy, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California at Santa Barbara concluded crops that are bioengineered to resist insects require less chemical spraying than conventional crops.

As a result, beneficial insect species that do no damage to the cultivated crops are left undisturbed, and fewer pesticides are residually released into the environment.

Beneficial Species Saved

The scientists analyzed nearly four dozen field experiments of genetically modified crops. Genetic modifications that allow plants to internally produce insecticides effectively negated the need for large-scale insecticide spraying. As a result, beneficial insect species–including ladybird beetles, earthworms, and bees–were able to thrive among crops that otherwise would be sprayed with insecticides harmful to beneficial and dangerous insects alike.

“A meta-analysis of 42 field experiments indicates that nontarget invertebrates are generally more abundant in [biotech] cotton and [biotech] maize fields than in nontransgenic fields managed with insecticides,” the study concluded.

“This is a groundbreaking study and the first of its kind to evaluate the current science surrounding genetically modified crops,” Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy, said in a June 7 Santa Clara University news release.

Governments Stifle Use

Henry Miller, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, noted that despite its repeatedly proven benefits and safety, biotechnology faces uniquely burdensome regulations.

“Even where gene-spliced crops are being cultivated, unscientific, overly burdensome regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has raised significantly the cost of producing new plant varieties and kept many potentially important crops from ever reaching the market,” observed Miller.

James Hoare ([email protected]) is an attorney practicing in Rochester, New York.