Tuesday, February 13, 2007

GM crops - new studies

Impacts of GM/GE Crops Assessed
Two recent in-depth studies broadly assess the impacts to date of genetically modified/engineered crops: the first, from Switzerland, takes an ecological perspective, while the second considers the approaches of economic studies of GE crops as conducted in developing economies.
The Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety commissioned a far reaching, science-based study that resulted in a comprehensive paper published in late 2006 examining and documenting "Ecological Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops, Experiences from Ten Years of Experimental Field Research and Commercial Cultivation."

Authors O. Sanvido, _et al_, primarily utilized peer-reviewed materials from scientific sources in an effort to address questions about GM crop impacts and effects on non-target organisms, soil ecosystems, gene flow from GM crops to wild relatives, GM crop invasiveness, impacts on management on pest organisms, and ecological benefits of GM crop cultivation.

Overall, the study concluded that available data do not provide any scientific evidence for harm to the environment attributable to commercial cultivation of GM crops. A minority of the Committee dissented from the study's conclusion.
Additionally, the study's authors state that, "the real choice is between GM crops and current conventional pest .... management practices, all possibly having positive and negative outcomes," and that a truly precautionary policy requires comparing "the risk of adopting a technology against the risk of not adopting it."
The 108-page document can be freely downloaded as a PDF file from http://www.agbios.com/docroot/articles/06-346-001.pdf or ordered from:
ART, Reckenholzstr. 191, CH-8046 Zurich, SWITZERLAND.

The second large study, also published in late 2006, is "Parables:
Applied Economics Literature About the Impact of Genetically Engineered Crop Varieties in Developing Economies." This work undertook an analysis of the methods employed to arrive at economic findings, as the methods themselves are clearly seen as influencing factors.
Published by the International Food Policy Research Institute
(IFPRI) as EPT discussion paper 158, the study concluded that, "findings of current case studies should not be generalized to other locations, crops, and traits" due to the relative short time frame of most analyses. Authors M. Smale, _et al_ note that "any particular variety, even if widely adapted, will perform with considerable variation across location and time."
The 102-page study concludes that, "the net economic impact of new crop varieties on society is not easily measured" in that no single method can sufficiently measure change, particularly where so many markets, production environments, and policies can dramatically shift from one year to the next.

Institutional and social contexts of technology introduction, the authors note, often have greater significance on impact direction and magnitude than the technology itself. Future studies on technology impact need to more critically assess effects in terms of labor, health, environment, equity, and poverty, the study's authors assert.

At http://www.ifpri.org/divs/eptd/dp/eptdp158.asp download the full study, or order a copy from: IFPRI, 2033 K St., NW, Washington, DC 20006-1002, USA. Fax: 1-202-467-4439. Phone: 1-202-862-5600.

Both studies are a cold, factual examination of the issues and worth a read - skeptics and believers alike!

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