Biotechnology is reducing pesticide use

The promise of reducing pesticide applications on U.S. farms by planting genetically-modified (GM) crops should appeal to environmental activists – not to mention farmers and consumers. In fact, that promise is being realised.

To estimate changes in pesticide use resulting from the decision to plant GM or non-GM crops, researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) used three different statistical measures. They measured differences within the same year between pesticide use for GM and non-GM crops, the differences from year to year, and estimated differences in pesticide use between two years.

The researchers used USDA data from 1996 through 1998. Using a measure called "acre treatments," a number of acres multiplied by the number of applications per year, the researchers found:

  • Overall estimated reductions in pesticide use resulting from planting GM crops ranged from nearly 7 million to 19 million acre treatments.

  • They found reductions in pounds of active pesticide ingredients used ranged from 0.3 million pounds in 1997 (comparing GM and non-GM crops in the same year) to 8.2 million pounds between 1997 and 1998 (using year-to-year comparisons).

    The researchers noted that with changes in pesticide mixes, it would be incorrect to compare the total number of acre-treatments with the number of pounds of active ingredients in different pesticide formulations.

    The more than 350 active ingredients that have been used in pesticide formulations over the past 40 years vary widely in toxicity per unit of weight – as well as persistence in the environment.

    Experts say the net reduction in pesticide use should be good news for environmentalists, consumers and farmers.

    Source: Beatrice Trum Hunter, Biotech Reduces Pesticide Use, Consumers' Research, April 2001.

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