By Joanna Sax
I’ve become increasingly interested in GM crops, in general, after the recent Petrie-Flom Conference on the FDA in the 21st Century.
I know there is a lot of discussion and controversy about genetically-modified (GM) crops. I want to pick-up on a topic that is related to GM crops – that is, the environment. The May 2nd issue of Nature includes a special section on GM crops. Part of this section provides information on the environmental advantages of GM crops. Most of the GM crops contain DNA that allows them to be resistant to herbicides or insects. It turns out that a study showed that there was a 6.1% reduction in the use of herbicide between 1996 and 2011 on crops of herbicide-resistant cotton compared to the amount of herbicide that would have been used to treat conventional crops. See Natasha Gilbert, A Hard Look at GM Crops, 497 Nature 24, 25 (2012) (I believe this article is free if you search for it on the Nature website). A reduction in the amount of herbicide used to treat our fabric or food sources may have environmental advantages. Less herbicide run-off into waterways. Less herbicide for animals to consume. See id.
Other scientific data provide inconclusive results about environmental impacts. Some studies look at whether transgenes are spreading to weeds or non-GM crops. For example, husbandry techniques of cross-breeding may unknowingly cross breed a non-transgenic line with a transgenic line and thereby create a transgenic line. Now, a GM crop will be grown without the farmer even knowing it. See id. at 24, 26. And, if the GM crop has some sort of negative environmental impact, then a farmer may unwittingly be creating potential harm to the environment.
One thing I want to raise with this post is the importance to incorporate multiple areas of study – biology, environmental studies, genetics, health, regulation, etc. – to determine how we advance our understanding of GM crops. I imagine that many readers of this blog are much more familiar with GM crops than me, so I welcome your comments.