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Environmental benefits of genetically modified crops: Global and European perspectives on their ability to reduce pesticide use

R. H. Phipps 1,  
Centre for Dairy Research, Department of Agriculture, The University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AT, UK
J. Anim. Feed Sci. 2002;11(1):1–18
Publish date: 2002-01-31
The Green Revolution, which brought together improved varieties, increased use of fertilizer, irrigation and synthetic pesticides, is credited with helping to feed the current global population of 6 billion. While this paper recognizes the ability of pesticides to reduce crop losses, it also discusses their potential negative effects on public health, with particular emphasis in developing countries, and the environment. The response of the agricultural industry in bringing forward new technology such as reduced application rates of targeted pesticides with lower toxicity and persistency is noted. However, with increasing world population, a slowing of the rate of crop improvement through conventional breeding and a declining area of land available for food production there is a need for new technologies to produce more food of improved nutritional value in an environmentally acceptable and sustainable manner. Whilst the authors recognize that the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops is controversial, the benefits of these crops, including their effect on pesticide use is only now beginning to be documented. Published data are used to estimate what effect GM crops have had on pesticide use first on a global basis, and then to predict what effect they would have if widely grown in the European Union (EU). On a global basis GM technology has reduced pesticide use, with the size of the reduction varying between crops and the introduced trait. It is estimated that the use of GM soyabean, oil seed rape, cotton and maize varieties modified for herbicide tolerance and insect protected GM varieties of cotton reduced pesticide use by a total of 22.3 million kg of formulated product in the year 2000. Estimates indicate that if 50% of the maize, oil seed rape, sugar beet, and cotton grown in the EU were GM varieties, pesticide used in the EU/annum would decrease by 14.5 million kg of formulated product (4.4 million kg active ingredient). In addition there would be a reduction of 7.5 million ha sprayed which would save 20.5 million litres of diesel and result in a reduction of approximately 73,0001 of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. The paper also points to areas where GM technology may make further marked reductions in global pesticide use.
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