Biotech crops good for environment

CROP biotechnology has reduced pesticide use associated with environmental impact and has been proven to be beneficial for agricultural biodiversity, according to a United Kingdom-based agricultural economist and scientists from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) during a recent online technical forum.

In a recent online technical forum titled “Greener Greens: Environmental Impact of Biotech Crops” which was convened by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca), Graham Brookes, an agricultural economist at the UK-based PG Economics Ltd., presented the cumulative impact of using genetically modified (GM) crop technology in agriculture from 1996 to 2018.

Brookes presented key environmental impacts associated with the use of crop biotechnology such as reduced pesticide application by 775.4 million kilograms or 8.3 percent. He said this resulted in the decreased environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on crops.

He said there were also significant net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to more than $200 billion over a period of 22 years.

“Genetic modification is an important contribution to increasing world production of soybeans, corn, canola and cotton,” Brookes said

This resulted in higher yields, higher incomes, more reliable food supply, adoption of more sustainable farming systems, more environmentally friendly farming methods, and reduction in carbon emissions, he added.

This was affirmed by Merdelyn Caasi-Lit and Ireneo Lit Jr., both professors and scientists at UPLB, based on a study on Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn and arthropod biodiversity in cornfields.

Their study showed that Bt corn ensures good yield by protecting the crop against corn borer infestation and reducing farm inputs for pesticide use. It has also been proven to be beneficial for agrobiodiversity.

Caasi-Lit explained that the increased arthropod diversity should be considered precious bonuses added to the economic gains of planting Bt corn because they make Bt corn farming more ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable.

The three experts also addressed questions and concerns from participants that ranged from mitigating possible environmental impact of unauthorized genetically modified (GM) seeds to recommendations on existing regulatory policies; status of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats associated proteins or CRISPR-Cas9 projects in the country; and effective means of promoting knowledge about the advantages of genetically modified organisms or GM organisms in agriculture and the economy.

The forum was in partnership with the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines, CropLife Asia, Program for Biosafety Systems, International Rice Research Institute, Philippine Rice Research Institute, Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office, UPLB-Institute of Plant Breeding, and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

More than a thousand participants from Asia, Europe, and South America attended the forum, including students and teachers from different universities in the Philippines. The forum was part of the 16th National Biotechnology Week led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In co-organizing the forum, Searca Director Glenn Gregorio said the Searca affirms its commitment to promote credible, science-based innovations.

He said the current global pandemic and recent calamities have put more pressure on every sector of society to be innovative.

“It is therefore high time to emphasize the positive impacts of biotechnology on the various sectors especially in the area of environmental protection and sustainability, which also encompasses food production and consumption,” Gregorio said.