New Report on Economic and Environmental Impacts of Transgenic Crops Available

A new peer-reviewed work has been published (April 2013) that outlines some significant global economic and environmental benefits of transgenic crops. The paper is titled — GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2011. The authors of the paper are Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, with PG Economics Ltd, Dorchester, United Kingdom. Provided are key findings that I gleaned from the report, some, are direct quotes from this document. As an agricultural entomologist who has conducted western corn rootworm research for many years, I was particularly interested in the overall US farm income gain attributed to corn rootworm Bt hybrids ~ $7.1 billion cumulative benefits since 2003. Not surprisingly, the economic impact had a wide range of $9.71 to $48.97 per acre. I attribute this to sporadic infestations across fields and years.

Even though soil insecticide use is expected to increase in 2013, there has been an impressive reduction in overall insecticide use since 1996 and an improvement in the environmental impact quotient (EIQ). This can be attributed to fewer cornfields being treated for above-ground infestations of stalk-boring insects (e.g. European corn borer) and reduced use of planting-time soil insecticide applications following the introduction of corn rootworm Bt hybrids in 2003. Unfortunately, concerns over western corn rootworm resistance to the Cry3Bb1 protein expressed in some Bt hybrids and high commodity prices have fueled a resurgence in the interest of using both inputs — Bt corn rootworm hybrids and a planting-time soil insecticide.

From: Brookes and Barfoot. 2013. GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2011. PG Economics Ltd. Dorchester, United Kingdom, 191 pages.

  • "In 2011, the direct global farm income benefit from GM crops was $19.8 billion."
  • "The largest gains in farm income in 2011 have arisen in the maize sector, largely from yield gains."
  • In 2011, there were 47.2 million acres (56% of US corn acreage) of the US corn crop planted to Bt hybrids aimed at corn rootworms.
  • "The main farm income impact has been higher yields of about 5% relative to conventional maize."
  • The net economic impact to producers of Bt corn rootworm hybrids has been $9.71 to $48.97 per acre.
  • "Cumulatively since 2003, the total farm income gain from the use of GM IR CRW technology in the US maize crop has been +$7.1 billion."
  • US — "Since 1996, the cumulative decrease in insecticide ai use has been 42% (40.7 million kg), and the cumulative reduction in the field EIQ load has been 38%."

These estimates of economic and environmental benefits attributed to the use of Bt hybrids attests to the importance of using transgenic inputs as part of an overall IPM approach in the management of agricultural pests. Use of Bt hybrids in a non-integrative fashion will lead to the loss of their effectiveness.

Mike Gray