gapoli's picture
How is biodiversity impacted by the introduction of GM crops? Are the current set of crops being replace with a smaller, less biologically diverse set of GM crops? If so, is there an increased risk of a much larger-scale impact from the adaptation of infectious diseases or pests? If there are increased risks, how are scientists, businesses, farmers and regulatory agencies managing this risk?

A:Expert Answer

Wow, there are a lot of great questions here. I’ll answer them individually:

First, how is biodiversity impacted by the introduction of GM crops?
Biodiversity is actually enhanced by the adoption of GM crops. Those crops commercialized to date have reduced the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity through enhanced adoption of conservation tillage practices, through reduction of pesticide use and use of more environmentally benign herbicides and through increasing yields to alleviate pressure to convert additional land into agricultural use.

Is the current set of crops being replaced with a smaller, less biologically diverse set of GM crops?
With the introduction of GM crops, concern has been raised that crop genetic diversity will decrease because breeding programs will concentrate on a smaller number of high-value cultivars. Studies that have been done to date (cotton in the United States and India; soybeans in the U.S.) find that the introduction of GM crops has not decreased crop diversity. From a broader perspective, GM technology has the potential to actually increase crop diversity by enhancing underutilized alternative crops, and to facilitate more widespread production of heirloom varieties that have fallen out of favor because of their poor agronomic performance, pest/disease susceptibility, lesser adaptability and other undesirable characteristics. Advantageous genes can render them more suitable for widespread commercialization.  In addition, transgenic approaches are being used to improve so-called orphan crops, such as sweet potato, cassava, etc., potentially increasing options and improving diversity, especially in sensitive regions.

If so, is there an increased risk of a much larger-scale impact from the adaptation of infectious diseases or pests?
Integrated pest management is an important cornerstone of any cropping system.  Biotech provides a much broader, more effective set of tools that can be used with existing systems and has the potential to be rapidly deployed in anticipation of emerging diseases and altered pest pressure. In addition, gene stacking and gene rotation means that there is potential for multiple layers of protection, which should reduce pressure and ensure greater robustness and longevity in pest- and disease-resistance management. There are also fewer negative effects, such as diminished impact on non-target insects, with the non-target effects of insecticides being much greater than for Bt crops.

 

The introduction of herbicide-tolerant crops has facilitated adoption of conservation tillage, which has decreased erosion, increased water-usage efficiency and decreased pesticide runoff. Adopters of GM crops have reduced insecticide use and switched to more environmentally friendly herbicides. In addition to the potential benefits of expanded adoption of current technology, several technologies in the pipeline offer additional promise of alleviating the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity. Especially within the context of climate change, solutions must be developed to adapt crops to not only existing but also evolving environmental stressors, such as soil depletion and greater extremes of heat, cold, drought, flooding and salinity. Technologies to address those stressors, including drought, submergence, salinity and other tolerance, would alleviate the pressure to convert high-biodiversity areas into agricultural use by enabling crop production on suboptimal soils and enabling the return to production of depleted soils. Arguably, the most critical abiotic stress is lack of sufficient water. Unfortunately, irrigation is also one of the major causes of arable land degradation, as mineral salts that occur naturally in irrigation water accumulate over time in soils.  In fact, crops are now limited by salinity on 40 percent of the world's irrigated land (25 percent of the United States). Salt-tolerant crops currently in production will allow crops to grow on land that is 50 times saltier than normal, one-third as salty as seawater. This system also addresses the increasing problem of saltwater encroachment on freshwater resources. Drought tolerance technology, which allows crops to withstand prolonged periods of low soil moisture, is anticipated to be commercialized in the near future. Nitrogen-use efficiency technology, also under development, can reduce run-off of nitrogen fertilizer into surface waters. The technology promises to decrease the use of fertilizers while maintaining or increasing yields, achievable with reduced fertilizer rates where access to fertilizer input is limited.

 

GM crops can continue to decrease the pressure on biodiversity as global agricultural systems expand to feed a world population that is expected to grow to nine billion by 2050 and will require a 70 percent increase in food production. So increased productivity with reduced impact on diversity is imperative for sustainability.


If there are increased risks, how are scientists, businesses, farmers and regulatory agencies managing this risk? 

As noted, the risk is decreased, not increased, and subject to parameters similar to those of any other production system. So the same risk-focused management systems should be deployed to ensure proper stewardship of the earth’s resources.

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Comments

Rickinreallife's picture

This is perhaps the best answer I have seen so far. Thank you for such a thoughtful analysis. If you can bring back the Rushmore tomato variety with enhancements to resist fusarium wilt, I'll be the first in line.

NeedsTheTruth's picture

bottom line, your chemical causes death, disease, suffering, and has unimaginable consequences. This is not the country our forefathers envisioned

NeedsTheTruth's picture

lol rickinreallife try to be a little more creative, and sound less like a monsanto rep thanx

Rickinreallife's picture

It was a good answer. I've thought some of the answers here have been less than satisfying, but this one was well reasoned, thorough and rational. That's not to say that there aren't counterarguments, but the standard shill accusation isn't one.

Community Manager's picture

@NeedsTheTruth The purpose of this community is to answer questions about GMOs and biotechnology. If you are not here to ask questions and have a dialogue – which focuses on the facts – this site may not be for you. Please be respectful of the other members of this community. Review our house rules for more information about the forum is moderated http://gmoanswers.com/house-rules

Iain Young's picture

The planting of mono crops in itself may not present problems in the short term but when the pollen of GMO plants is airborne it contaminates non GMO crops and renders diversity a lethal blow. Once the GMO gene (genie) is out of the bottle our crop diversity is lost forever.

Paul Fonder Fonder's picture

It's one thing to say mono farming & GMOs do n't effect biodiversity in a science lab but in the real world growing these crops on millions of acres you might start seeing their effects on biodiversity!

angela's picture

wow such vague and one sided answers and questions. If your GMO crop are so great why are so many farmers taking Monsanto to court???

Tessa Cunningham's picture

Tessa Cunningham's picture

What we are all forgetting is it's now just monSatan that is a help at killing our planet it is also Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF and the rest like them.

Tessa Cunningham's picture

What if anything are you doing to help the Bees, a recent study found it's a combination of pesticides and fungicides that help in collapse of colonies.

Community Manager's picture

Thanks for your question, @Tessa Cunningham. We have an answer pending related to GMOs and bees, we will share the response when available.

horseballs's picture

GMOS increase the biodiversity of superweeds.

I find this site hilarious, as they use a few "scientists" that have been generously compensated. Meanwhile, the majority of the scientific community disagrees with this "independent" website, supposedly here to provide people with the "facts."

Corporations like Monsanto are going to continue to run into problems, because this isn't the dark ages any more. People are more informed than ever, solely because it's become nearly impossible to hide the truth --- ironically, this is due to the existence of the internet.

You're gonna lose.

horseballs's picture

"The purpose of this community is to answer questions about GMOs and biotechnology. If you are not here to ask questions and have a dialogue – which focuses on the facts – this site may not be for you."

You seem to have forgotten that we all know this website is a MONSANTO community here to answer questions about MONSANTO'S view on GMOs and MONSANTO'S views on biotechnology.

"If you are not here to ask questions that MONSANTO doesn't approve of and have a dialogue - which focuses on the "facts" as stated by GMO giant, MONSANTO - this site may not be for you."

You're right, this website is not for me --- it's literally run by MONSANTO. Does anyone here not see that as a raging conflict of interest?

Cornlover's picture

horseballs why don't you inform us of the facts.

Community Manager's picture

@horseballs Please post comments which directly relate to the question and provided answer. Sticking to the subject makes conversational threads easier for others to follow. If you feel as if your comment might deserve its own conversational thread, please post it as a new question. Thank you.

SaveMyFood's picture

"Oilseed rape (HT varieties, tolerant to glufosinate
ammonium or glyphosate). Adverse impacts occurred
where a) the herbicides used in HT cropping caused
a systematic depletion of the weed flora and dependent
invertebrates, resulting in reductions in biodiversity
within fields..."

A decade of EU-funded GMO research.

Biodiversity is not limited to the crop in question. This should include the impact on bugs, other plant life... let's throw bees in there as well.

Paulina Buncic Lewis's picture

GMO soy, corn, and cotton crops in Brazil, along with non-GMO crops such as tomatoes, beans, and sorghum, are being devoured by voracious caterpillars that were not a problem prior to the use of genetically modified seeds. Brazilian farmers are facing huge losses (now totaling ten billion REAL’s, the national currency) as a plague of the caterpillar pests—called Helicoverpa armigera or the “corn ear worm”— are devastating fields. The insect’s natural predator, another variety of caterpillar with cannibalistic tendencies called Spodoptera, was intentionally eliminated as a result of the cultivation of transgenic maize engineered with Bt toxin, designed to kill off the primary species. Unfortunately, 90% of the secondary caterpillar species proved immune to the pesticide, allowing it to multiply unchecked and to eat to its heart’s content in the absence of natural enemies.
At a recent conference specifically dedicated to Helicoverpa armigera, conducted by Brazil’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, scientists, farmers, students, and government officials gathered to discuss the problem and propose control measures. Declaring the infestation a “phytosanitary emergency to cotton and soybean crops,” a working group was formed to sketch out a disaster plan in an effort to reverse the caterpillar’s impact. A method of attacking its reproductive cycle is being considered…and so mankind’s tampering with nature continues, no doubt with even more unpredictable consequences on the horizon.

Rex Peterson's picture

Save my food,
Have you ever seen a rape field?
Rape is the bright yellow mustard flower that grows about 4 feet tall, thick, interlocked and once canopied, virtually without weeds. Canola was bred from rape.
No doubt the study was able to make a statistical comparison, but 50% of almost nothing is 50% of almost nothing.
The last comparable study I saw analyzed roundup ready versus conventional sugar beets, claiming that the post harvest habitat was less suitable for pheasants due to the reduction in weeds. I won't grow sugar beets because harvest tills the entire field. There are not plants (or weeds) post harvest. It is not feed or cover for wildlife.

Seeking.the.Truth's picture

"From a broader perspective, GM technology has the potential to actually increase crop diversity by enhancing underutilized alternative crops, and facilitate more broad spread production of heirloom varieties that have fallen out of favor because of their poor agronomic performance, pest/disease susceptibility less adaptability and other undesirable characteristics. Advantageous genes can render them more suitable for widespread commercialization"

Once a seed is genetically modified, it is no longer an heirloom variety. Honestly, please do not insult our intelligence here.

Seeking.the.Truth's picture

Who wrote this? Was it a moderator?

"The purpose of this community is to answer questions about GMOs and biotechnology. If you are not here to ask questions and have a dialogue – which focuses on the facts – this site may not be for you."

"If you are not here to ask questions that MONSANTO doesn't approve of and have a dialogue - which focuses on the "facts" as stated by GMO giant, MONSANTO - this site may not be for you."