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Impact of genetically engineered maize on agronomic, environmental and toxicological traits: a meta-analysis of 21 years of field data

The following is a study detailing the impact of GMO corn.

Since their first commercialization in 19961,2, genetically engineered (GE) crops have been rapidly adopted in many countries3 becoming the fastest adopted crop technology in the world4. GE crop cultivation has increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 185.1 million hectares in 2016, representing about 12% of the global cropland, 54% of which are found in developing countries4.

In 2016, the different GE traits introduced into major crops (soybean, maize, canola, and cotton) consist of herbicide tolerance (HT) which comprise 95.9 million hectares of GE crops (53% of the total GE area); insect resistance (IR) at 25.2 million hectares (14% of the total GE area) and both HT and IR stacked in one crop, at 58.5 million hectares (33% of the total GE area)4.

Despite the extensive cultivation of GE crops and a considerable number of scientific reports, the concerns about their safety has led 38 countries worldwide, including 19 in Europe, to officially prohibit their cultivation, though allowing the import of food and feed derived from or consisting of GE plants4.

Among GE crops, maize (Zea mays L.) has the highest number of approved events (single and stacked traits) and is the second largest crop, after soybean, in terms of global adoption5. In 2015, 53.6 million ha of GE maize were cultivated on a global scale, representing almost 1/3 of the 185 million ha of maize planted worldwide. Thirty-three million ha were grown in USA, while GE maize planted in Brazil, Argentina, and Canada accounted for 17.4 million ha. The global value of GE maize is estimated at US$ 8.1 billion4. Moreover, among GE crops, maize has the highest potential of expansion. This is due to its comparatively low rate of adoption (30% of the global maize in 2015) and its huge cultivated area4.

Numerous attempts have been carried out to synthesize the huge literature on agronomic and economic performance and environmental impact of GE maize (e.g.,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13). However, these studies, mostly literature reviews, do not allow us to draw univocal conclusions.

To date, a few meta-analyses have been performed on GE maize at farm and field level addressing questions concerning yield, production cost and gross margin terms14,15,16, pesticide use16, and effects on non-target (NT) invertebrates17,18,19,20. However, there are still some unsettled key issues in GE maize cultivation which remain to be addressed, such as if GE technology improves the grain quality in terms of nutritional value and toxin content (including mycotoxins)21,22, and if it affects important agro-ecosystem services including soil organic matter decomposition.

Therefore, this study is aimed at increasing our knowledge about agronomic traits and safety for human health and environment of GE maize cultivation by performing a meta-analysis of the peer-reviewed literature (from 1996 to 2016) on yield and by extending the analysis on new parameters, such as grain quality, non target organisms (NTOs) at family level, target organisms (TOs) and soil biomass decomposition, allowing more robust evaluation of the field performance of GE maize. This study, embracing the period 1996–2016, applies rigorous criteria for study selection, such as the inclusion in the dataset of field observations comparing GE maize with its true non-GE isoline or near isoline, throughout its overall cultivation period.

Read the results of the study by clicking here!