GM plants benefit surrounding crops
by David Masters
September 25, 2008
Researchers in China have found that the benefits built in to genetically modified crops can help plants in neighbouring fields.
Chinese GM cotton had been modified to produce the insecticide Bt – which was found to protect the GM crops, as well as ordinary crops in nearby fields.
Analysing data collected since the GM cotton was commercialised in 1997, Dr Koingming Wu found that pest populations in the regions where the GM cotton was grown fell significantly, cutting the use of pesticides in half.
Cotton bollworms, the pest in question, usually move between crops after invading cotton.
Bt kills most second generation larvae of bollworms, preventing the bollworm population from expanding and invading other cotton plants or surrounding crops.
The research is being seen as a major boost for agricultural lobbyists who want to see GM use become a mainstream practice.
Environmental campaigners, however, are concerned about the future effects of GM crops on human health and biodiversity, particularly the risk of cross-pollonisation.
Dr. Wu confesses that GM crops may disturb the balance of wild ecological systems.
However, he added that protecting wild ecology at the expense of GM would risk worldwide food shortages.
Co-research Dr. Jian-Zhou Zhao responded to the criticism that GM crops could damage human health.
Zhao said using GM crops benefits the health of cotton farmers, who are no longer exposed to harmful insecticide chemicals.
Both scientists admit that insects could develop a resistance to GM crops producing Bt.
A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth commented on the limited nature of the study, which did not identify the impact of GM on crop yields for target or non-target species.
She added that the research must not be used to justify GM crops being grown.
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