GMO (Genetically Modified) PLANTS: ANGELS OR DEMONS?

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GMO, here are three letters that stigmatize alone the worst fears for both men’s health, and the environment. These letters have also become in a few years the symbol of a struggle against the globalization of the economy. The problem is that current advocates and opponents of GMOs debate in an area where the few studies available are subject to caution.

It is therefore in order to determine the effect of the use of herbicides on wildlife that this gigantic study was launched in England. For this purpose the effect of herbicides was tested on three kinds of genetically modified plants to resist and compared to the results obtained with the same unmodified plants. Scientists insist that their study shows the effect of herbicides on the environment and not the effect of genetically modified plants.

During the four years that this study was conducted, 280 fields across England were analyzed. For each crop the fields were separated in two. One half was grown with genetically modified plants, the other half with the same unmodified plants. These two plots being treated with broad spectrumherbicides for GMO plots , and narrow spectrum for others. GM plants have been modified to make them more resistant to herbicides used to kill weeds.

In order to objectively quantify the effect of the herbicides on the fauna and flora of the two fields, the scientists followed the quantity of seeds as well as the various insects found in the traps scattered in the fields. It is important to note that production yields were not included in the assessment.

The organizers of this study believe that it is a great success because it is the first time a new technology for agriculture is evaluated before its commissioning implementation rather than after.

Mixed results

Three types of plants were analyzed. 
For  rapeseed and sugar  beet results indicate greater biodiversity of flora and fauna in non-GMO plots. This difference seems to be related to the different insecticides used, and is therefore only an indirect consequence of the use of a GM plant. 
In contrast, for  maize the opposite results were obtained, ie greater diversity was observed in the plots containing transgenic maize.. In the latter case, it is important to note that the herbicide used (atrazine) has just been banned in the European Union, because of its likely effects on health.

The scientists insist that their work can in no way be generalized to all plants, and are valid only for the three species studied.

Ironically, ecological organizations have since the beginning of this study denounced in advance its non-statistical representativeness, and have repeatedly tried to sabotage this experience by tearing the plantations. This shows that in the debate about GMO plants, arguments are more often emotional than scientifically proven.

Dr. Kimberly Seltzer

Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley Research Assistant, MIT

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