Brussels, 08 Dec 2003
Genetically modified (GM) sugar beet is better for the environment than conventional beet, according to the first study of the wider impact of such crops on the planet's ecosystem.
GM beet was found to be between 15 and 50 per cent more environmentally friendly, depending on which type of impact was being assessed. These figures were arrived at following analysis of a range of indicators, including contribution to global warming, carcinogenic levels and toxicity to aquatic life.
Explaining the findings, Richard Phripps of the University of Reading in the UK said that herbicide-resistant GM beet requires a lot less weed killer and pesticide treatment from farmers, for example. This leads to a reduction in the amounts of tractor fuel used, thus reducing humankind's impact on global warming.
The study is based on data from published literature, information from farmers and field experiments on GM and conventional beet. Dr Phripps and his colleague, Richard Bennett, catalogued all physical resources consumed by farmers and the impact of any pollution. They call this approach 'life-cycle analysis'.
Their findings contradict the UK's highly publicised 'farm-scale evaluations', released in October 2003. These saw scientists gauging the effect of GM crops on farmland wildlife, and concluding, in the case of sugar beet, that the introduction of GM has a negative impact on bees and butterflies.
Dr Phripps argues that his approach, life cycle analysis, gives a broader picture than simply the effect on wildlife. 'We're not having a pop at the farm-scale evaluations, which were brilliant,' he said. 'We're simply saying they looked at only one component of the system.'
The Phripps and Bennett study found that GM sugar beet has far fewer negative effects on the environment than conventional crops in terms of global warming, eco-toxicity, acidification, nutrification, toxic particulates and carcinogenic levels.