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EMF Studies

19 June 2016

Genetically Modified Crops in Switzerland: Study

"Almost 20 years after their introduction, genetically modified (GM) crops and their associated policies are still matter of strong controversies. As a non-European Union (EU) member state, Switzerland evolved its own regulatory processes. Both Swiss citizens and farmers expressed strong negative views in many national surveys with about 65 % of the people opposed to GM plants in the last polls... A large publically funded national research program (NRP59) consecutive of the referendum was launched to evaluate the costs and benefits of GM in the Swiss agricultural context. Both environmental and socio-economic studies were conducted in this program. The main conclusions were that GM crops commercially available at that time did not yield particular agronomical advantage to Swiss farmers and that global distaste of GM-containing food impaired chances to open a viable market for these crops."  [See Abstract and Introduction below.]

Genetically modified crops in Switzerland: implications for agrosystem sustainability evidenced by multi-criteria model
DOI: 10.1007/s13593-016-0367-9

Open Access Review Article

Abstract

In Switzerland, genetically modified (GM) crops have been banned in 2005 and have never been used in agriculture. The relevance and sustainability of genetically modified crops for agrosystems have been assessed following a mandate from the Swiss Parliament defined by the Federal Act on Agriculture (187d al.1). For that, an ex ante study based on a multi-criteria decision analysis model that summarises literature and the opinion of experts has been done.

The impacts of genetically modified crops on both environmental and socio-economical sustainability in Switzerland have been assessed. Here, we review four model crops for Swiss agriculture: maize, sugar beet, potato and apple. Each crop was compared for both conventional and genetically modified farming systems that contain a specific trait, namely insecticide production (Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)), herbicide tolerance (HT), fungal resistance (FR), or bacterial resistance (BR). Results show that six out of seven scenarios showed a lower socio-economical sustainability for genetically modified compared to the conventional systems, whereas a slight improvement in the environmental component, mostly resources use, was observed in all scenarios. In conclusion, our work indicates that only carefully tailored and designed genetically modified crops would meet the high standard of requirements of Swiss agrosystems. Our model has thus allowed a quick diagnostic on the impact of genetically modified cultivation on sustainability.

1 Introduction

Almost 20 years after their introduction, genetically modified (GM) crops and their associated policies are still matter of strong controversies. As a non-European Union (EU) member state, Switzerland evolved its own regulatory processes. Both Swiss citizens and farmers expressed strong negative views in many national surveys with about 65 % of the people opposed to GM plants in the last polls (Aerni et al. 2011; FAO 2015). This led the Parliament to pass a law on genetic technology in non-human organisms in 2004 (GTA, 814.91), followed by a referendum to ban GM crops (Wolf and Albisser Vögeli 2009). One of the aims of this law is to guarantee that genetic engineering “serves the welfare of human beings, animals and environment” (Gene Technology Act, 814.91, Art 1). This text, more generally, frames the regulation over green biotechnologies but also leaves room for their potential use to maintain or improve agricultural sustainability. The end of the ban on GM crops has been postponed three times by the Swiss Federal Council and Parliament to officially finish by the end of 2017. A large publically funded national research program (NRP59) consecutive of the referendum was launched to evaluate the costs and benefits of GM in the Swiss agricultural context. Both environmental and socio-economic studies were conducted in this program. The main conclusions were that GM crops commercially available at that time did not yield particular agronomical advantage to Swiss farmers and that global distaste of GM-containing food impaired chances to open a viable market for these crops (Speiser et al. 2013). Insecticide-producing (Bt toxin) and herbicide tolerance (HT) represent the vast majority of GM crops used worldwide (Benbrook 2012; Brookes and Barfoot 2013). Those GM crops have been proposed to improve global agricultural sustainability (Raymond Park et al. 2011) by claiming three main advantages: (1) increase in yield, (2) lowering pesticide use and (3) increase of farmer’s income (Klümper and Qaim2014). HT crops mostly present resistance to glyphosate or glufosinate so far. After more than 20-year cultivation, some trends can be drawn on HT and Bt effects on pesticide use. On one hand, glyphosate use has massively increased in, e.g. cotton and soybean production systems (Jorge and Caswell 2006; Benbrook 2012; Klümper and Qaim 2014). Total pesticide use in the USA is stable over this period with around 2.4 t of active ingredient used per 1000 ha (FAO 2015) showing that GM crop use did not globally prevent pesticide spraying (for detailed review, see Fernandez-Cornejo et al. 2014). On the other hand, Bt corn and cotton are estimated to save 56 million tons of insecticides in the USA on the same period of time (Benbrook 2012; Klümper and Qaim 2014) when the in planta-produced toxins and seed coating are not considered. Noteworthy, some additional advantages are associated to Bt technologies like prevention of insect-induced mycotoxin accumulation (Abbas et al. 2013). A meta-study merging data from 147 original studies emphasise an increase in yield in GM crops by 22 % that is entirely attributed to change in pest management (Klümper and Qaim 2014). On a global scale, the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics showed no difference between maize yields of GM-growing Midwest and GM-free EU areas for the past 20 years (Heinemann et al. 2014; FOA 2015). This suggests that GM advantages reside mainly in keeping yields stable. GM crop advantages are tightly linked with the agronomic, socio-economic and environmental context in which the crop is deployed (Russell 2008)...

Full text available:
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13593-016-0367-9

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