Faq

  • What is the loss for Europe’s farmers from not being allowed to grow GM crops?

    A recent study by the University of Reading (UK) has revealed that European farmers are missing out on € 443 and € 929 million each year because they are not allowed to grow GM crops.

    For example, if farmers could adopt insect-resistant Bt maize in countries other than Spain, the estimated value to farmers could range from € 157 million to € 334 million per year. If insect-resistant GM cotton was also available for cultivation in the EU, the potential benefit of approximately € 80/ha to farmers with about 260,000 ha of cotton in Greece and Spain would result in € 20.8M/year.

    The estimated benefit of growing HT soybeans in Europe would be between € 5M and € 19M. Introducing GM oilseed rape to Europe would bring a potential annual benefit to EU farmers between € 195 and 318M.

    A recent report published by the Swedish finance ministry concluded that Europe is even losing up to SEK 22 billion (about 2.25 bn €) per year by not planting GM crops.

     
  • What effect do GM crops have on the environment?

     

    Although they were not originally developed to improve the environment, many GM crops help conserve water, prevent erosion, decrease carbon emissions, and grow more on less land.
     
    All GM crops that are currently on the market have proven to be safe for health and the environment.
     
    See more information in the FAQ: climate change, soil, water and biodiversity.
  • How does agriculture affect biodiversity?

    All forms of farming have major impacts on biodiversity, especially when new land is brought into cultivation. Habitats are destroyed and new ecological niches created which allow typical farmland species of birds, insects, mammals and weeds to establish themselves.

    Changes in how the land is managed – particularly what crop is grown and the time of year it is sown – make a difference to the biodiversity year by year. Changing the way crops are managed, including for example the use of GM herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant plant varieties, can also influence this. 

    Due to the increase in land cultivation, population growth and other environmental pressures, the diversity of plant and animal life is at risk. The 2010 biodiversity target to achieve a significant reduction of biodiversity loss, set by world governments in 2002, has not been met at a global level. Across the globe, natural systems that support economies, lives and livelihoods are at risk of rapid degradation, with significant further loss of biodiversity becoming increasingly likely. 
     
    Overall, the effects of farming on biodiversity depend mainly on agricultural practices rather than on the technology used for plant breeding. 
     
  • Are insect-resistant crops toxic to ‘non-target’ organisms, like butterflies?

    There is mounting evidence that shows that GM crops have no significant adverse effects on non-target organisms. Many studies have confirmed that GM crops containing a common soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (or 'Bt') is more specific and has fewer side effects than conventional pesticides.

    In fact, Bt has been used in organic farming as an alternative to conventional insecticides for almost 60 years.  Two meta-analysis studies in the renowned scientific magazines Science and Nature Genetics looked at the effects of Bt.

    They concluded that: 

    • Non-target organisms are generally more abundant in Bt maize fields than in non-transgenic fields managed with insecticides. 
       
    • Bt crops grown today are more specific and have fewer side effects on non-target organisms than most insecticides currently used. Bt technology can contribute to natural enemy conservation and can be a useful tool in integrated pest management systems.
    Bt has a long history of safe use for more than 40 years, including by organic growers: it has long been known that produces proteins that kill specific insect larvae, though it is harmless to other animals and humans. 
     
    Bt maize is an improvement on spraying with Bt insecticide formulations because it provides insect protection much more selectively, without the need for spraying.
     
     
  • Can GM crops help sustain biodiversity?

    For GM crops, an environmental risk assessment is carried out, comparing the impact of the introduced trait(s) on a range of environmental indicators, in comparison to a non-GM control variety. 

    According to a recent peer-reviewed literature review, “Impacts of GM crops on biodiversity”, GM crops have a number of effects that help to sustain biodiversity.
     
    1. By increasing yields on existing farmland, GM crops help preserve natural habitats and our world’s biodiversity. 
    2. Researchers estimate that 2.64 million hectares of land would probably be brought into grain and oilseed production if GM traits were no longer used.
    3. GM crops help facilitate conservation tillage practices, preserving soil and moisture.
    4. GM crops have not decreased crop diversity.
    5. Plant biotechnology is a powerful tool to help feed a growing world, sustainably.
    6. Bt crops can provide area-wide target pest suppression, reducing crop losses and the need for pest control measures.
    7. Mounting evidence shows that GM crops have no significant adverse effects on non-target organisms.
     
  • Do GM crops help reduce pesticide and herbicide applications?

     

    Herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant plants account for more than 95% of the GM crops at present; both contribute to a reduction in farmer’s application of plant protection products. A recent large project made an inventory of agrochemical use per hectare of GM crops compared with conventional crops by collecting data from public sources, including scientific literature and reports published by dedicated institutions. Several major studies in the US reported lower herbicide use (up to 25-33%) in herbicide-resistant crops (oilseed rape, cotton, maize, soybean) compared to their conventional counterparts. The results have been published in a comprehensive article by Kleter, et al. 

  • Do GM crops have an effect on soil?

     

    Globally, between 20,000 -50,000 km2 of arable land is estimated to be lost annually through degradation, especially soil erosion. GM crops can protect soils from erosion through less ploughing, conserving soil moisture, too. GM herbicide tolerant crops reduce the need to plough fields in preparation for planting crops. This saves fuel because less tilling is necessary. GM insect resistant crops require less treatments with insecticides, which also decreases the need for tractor use. 

  • Do GM crops help conserve water?

     

    Globally, water use has tripled over the last five decades. On average, it takes about 3,000 litres of water per person to produce our daily intake of food.
     
    GM technology can help to reduce water loss from agriculture and to improve drought tolerance. Some GM crops reduce the need for ploughing. This means the soil is not tilled as much, which helps to trap soil moisture. Under drought conditions, this can mean the difference between having a crop to harvest and crop failure 
  • Can GM crops help the fight against climate change?

    Through the use of low- and no-till farming methods, fuel use and CO2 emissions can be decreased thanks to less tillage. In 2009, this led to global emissions reductions of 17.7 billion kg of CO2, equivalent to 7.8 million fewer cars on the road for one year.

    GM crops can help farmers fight climate change in the following ways: 

    • Less fuel consumption on farms due to a reduced need to spray crops. 
    • Better carbon sequestration. With less tillage or ploughing, over time soil quality is enhanced and becomes carbon-enriched since more crop residue can be left on the fields. In addition, since the soil is not inverted by ploughing, less carbon in the soil will be released into the athmosphere. 
    • Reduced fertilizer use and N2O emissions. Nitrous oxide has a global warming potential 296 times greater than carbon dioxide. And it stays in the athmosphere for more than 100 years. These emissions can be limited by reduced fertilizer use, which will also mean less water pollution.  
  • Are biotechnology companies the main beneficiaries of GM technologies?

     

    Farmers get a direct profit (12%-21% on average) from growing GM crops via higher yields and lower pesticide applications. A recent study (Brookes and Barfoot, 2011) shows how much GM crops have benefited farmers throughout the world. Since 1996, farmers globally have gained more than ¤44 billion in farm income thanks to GM crops, and 57% of this profit was due to increased yields. In Europe, as in the rest of the world, two thirds of the benefits of growing GM are shared among European farmers and consumers, while one third goes to the developers and seed suppliers. Another recent study by the University of Reading (UK) showed that EU farmers are missing out on ¤440-930 million each year, simply because they do not have access to the GM crops that could be grown here.

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