THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
First introduced in the 1990s, 84.6% of all genetically modified (GM) crops worldwide carried herbicide resistance traits (144 mil. ha) by 2012. Herbicide-resistant (HR) crops occupy about 59% of the 170.3 million hectares under GM cultivation globally, with GM crops with stacked traits (basically herbicide and insect resistance) covering 25.6%.
Many studies have been done on HR crop use patterns and impacts. A review of these studies has been jointly conducted by three government agencies from Germany, Switzerland and Austria, to extract the lessons learnt, paying particular attention to the impact on biodiversity.
Scientific studies have established that agricultural intensification and pesticide use are among the main drivers of biodiversity loss. There are concerns that HR crops will help to further intensify farming and may therefore increase pressure on biodiversity. The review finds evidence to conclude that HR crops cannot reduce herbicide use in the longer term, and will in fact be associated with a further loss of biodiversity including whole food webs, wild flora, seeds, and ecosystem functions in agricultural fields.
Other concerns raised include observations that in regions where HR crops are widely adopted, less crop rotation and crop diversification takes place, with a clear trend towards monoculture; the development of herbicide resistant weeds, resulting in farmers resorting to higher herbicide doses and the use of other herbicides; and the spatial and temporal spread of the HR trait, which is a particular concern in centres of crop origin and regions where interfertile and weedy hybrids occur. In addition, there has been little, if any, contribution of HR crops to increase crop yields.
According to the review, “…herbicide resistant crops are not part of the solution, but part of the problem”. It makes a call to stop the loss of biodiversity, reverse the current development trend in agriculture, and increase biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems with more environmentally friendly practices and less dependence on pesticides.
The Executive Summary of the paper and the link to the full paper are given below.
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Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
Website: http://www.biosafety-info.net/ and http://www.twn.my/
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AGRONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS OF THE CULTIVATION OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED HERBICIDE-RESISTANT PLANTS
- A joint paper of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) Germany, Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) Switzerland and Environment Agency Austria. Edited by Tappeser, B., Reichenbecher, W., & Teichmann, H. BfN (2014).
Conservation of biodiversity is high on the agenda of international and national environmental policies though not very present in public awareness. The need to protect biodiversity and stop the loss was acknowledged in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), internationally agreed on in 1992, and underscored by relevant decisions since then. It has been known for some time that intensive high input farming is one of the main drivers of ongoing biodiversity losses in agricultural landscapes. An indicator for such losses is the diversity and abundance of weed flora. Transgenic crops resistant to the herbicides glyphosate (accounting for the great majority) and glufosinate have first been cultivated commercially in the nineties of the last century. Since then, a wealth of information has been collected on use patterns and on impacts of herbicide-resistant (HR) crops. There are concerns that HR crops will help to further intensify farming and may therefore increase pressure on biodiversity. The need to study potential environmental consequences of changes in herbicide usage due to transgenic HR plants has recently been underlined by the Council (of Environment Ministers) of the European Union (EU). This paper summarizes the lessons that can be learned from the experience up to now.