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Navigating the genetic engineering maze

In the decade since genetically modified strains of maize resistant to insects have been grown in the European Union, crop yields have gone up, farmers' reliance on insecticides has fallen significantly and the quality of maize has improved. That's the message from research published this month in the International Journal of Biotechnology from Inderscience Publishers.

Agricultural economist Graham Brookes of PG Economics Ltd, based in Dorchester, UK, has reviewed the specific economic impacts on yield and farm income as well as the environmental impact with respect to a lower reliance on insecticide usage since the introduction of GM maize in the EU in 1998.

So-called "Bt" maize carries genes for a highly specific insect toxin from the soil-dwelling microbe Bacillus thuringiensis. This toxin kills the European corn borer and the Mediterranean stem borer, which would otherwise damage maize crops without insecticidal spraying.

Brookes' analysis reveals that profits have risen by more than a fifth for some farmers who previously used synthetic insecticides to control these pests. He points out that GM technology has reduced insecticide spraying markedly, which also has associated environmental benefits. He also points out that the quality of the maize produced is higher because the GM crop is less susceptible than non-GM maize to infestation with fungi that produce mycotoxins, hazardous to human health.

Bt maize was planted for the first time in 1998 in Spain and in 2007 the total area of this crop in Spain was about 75000 hectares. In total, the EU plantings of Bt maize in 2007 were 110,000 hectares, with crops also in France, Germany, Portugal, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Poland. This represents 1.3% of total EU grain maize plantings in 2007.

Brookes points out that his findings are consistent with those seen in North and South America, South Africa and the Philippines. "In all countries where the technology has been adopted farmers have seen consistent increases in both yields and income levels, with annual and regional variations in impact reflecting the variable incidence of pest attacks and damage," he concludes.

Albert Ang | alfa
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