Saturday, January 28, 2012

Are GMOs Safe?

The recently reported study of a significant Indiana honey bee kill that was traced to the insecticide clothianidin drew questions about the crops involved. The study followed the flow of a systemic insecticide, coated onto corn seed, from crops and the surrounding soil to the bees and their hives. The study by Krupke et al. is published in the Public Library of Science at Several readers questioned the safety of the treated crop, genetically modified, or GMO, corn. A large percentage of grain and food crops grown in the United States involve plants known as genetically modified organisms, crops that have been modified to have desirable traits either by altering the plant’s genes or by introducing genetic material from other organisms. Most crop GMOs accomplish two purposes: The first is to provide resistance in the crop plants to herbicides used to control competing weeds and grasses, and the second is to allow the crop plants to control insect pests. Genetically modified crops are tested for safety to beneficial insects, like honey bees, and for livestock and humans that consume the crops. While testing and observation continue, genetically modified crops appear to be safe. GMO grains have a history of safe use over a number of years. Researchers find no connection between GMO crops and honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder.

GMO crops also offer a number of advantages for modern agriculture. Crops resistant to specific herbicides, like glyphosate, can be grown weed-free by spraying the entire field. Weeds are killed, but the crop is not damaged. Glyphosate-resistant crops are often known as “Roundup Ready.” The use of genetically modified crops can reduce the need for mechanical cultivation, saving labor, fuel, and soil moisture by employing no-till practices. Also, GMO crop plantings often reduce the need for insecticides such as clothianidin. In today’s photo greater white-fronted geese, “specklebellies,” wintering in the Arkansas Delta, forage in a harvested soybean field. The Delta is seeing increased numbers of migratory waterfowl.

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