Scientists question herbicide-resistant crops

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ENDS Daily - 20/02/97
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Genetically-engineered herbicide resistant crop varieties will not be environmentally beneficial in the long term, according to a study prepared for the Dutch government. Dutch scientists have concluded that herbicide resistance will encourage chemical dependence. They are urging farmers to view herbicide-resistant crops as a "last resort".

The study was carried out by scientists at two research institutes operating under the official Netherlands organisation for agricultural research, DLO-NL. It assesses environmental and economic costs and benefits of several approaches to cultivating sugar beet and maize including organic techniques, integrated crop management, or herbicide-resistant crops.

Sugar beet and maize are important crops in the Netherlands, and a number of biotechnology companies are developing herbicide-resistant varieties for the Dutch market. Companies operating in the Netherlands, such as Agrevo and Advanta, say that herbicide-resistant crops will benefit the environment by encouraging use of more environmentally-friendly herbicides.

The study concludes that it could be justified in the short term, but that in the long term using herbicide- resistant crops would encourage chemical dependence. Jos Bijman, a researcher at the DLO agricultural economics institute told ENDS Daily: "We came to the conclusion that, in the short term, herbicide resistant plant varieties may have environmental and economic benefits; but in the long term other weed management techniques would be more environmentally beneficial because they use less chemicals."

Mr Bijman added, "The current focus on herbicide- resistant plants could take away incentives for farmers to develop non-chemical, more environmentally benign control methods."

The scientists recommend that the government should counterbalance commercial promotion of herbicide- resistant crops by supporting other solutions. They say the government should promote non-chemical weed management techniques and encourage farmers to consider herbicide-resistance as a "last resort" within integrated crop management regimes

They also call for independent monitoring where herbicide-resistant crops are grown in field trials or commercially.

Contacts: DLO-NL (http://www.bib.wau.nl/dlo/); Jos Bijman, LEI-DLO, e-mail: w.j.j.bijman@lei.dlo.nl.


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