Genetically modified rice beneficial, says study

Himalayan News Service

Los Angeles, April 30:

Field trials have shown that genetically modified (GM) rice yields higher output, lowers pesticide use and reduces pesticide-related health problems, US and Chinese researchers say.

The researchers conducted an economic analysis of data from eight rice field trials in China, Xinhua reported. The study aims at determining whether GM rice was helping farmers reduce pesticide use in the fields, increasing yield and having any identifiable health effects on the farmers growing the GM rice strains. Huang Jikun and Hu Ruifa at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Scott Rozelle from the University of California and Carl Pray form Rutgers University conducted the joint study. The field trials involved two insect-resistent GM rice strains that have been in pre-production field trials since 2001. “This paper studies two of the four GM varieties that are now in farm-level pre-production trials, the last step before commercialisation,” said co-author Pray.

China began research on genetically modified agricultural crops in the 1980s but has not yet developed any GM food crops for the commercial market. Data from surveys revealed that the characteristics of the farm households were nearly identical, regardless of what type of rice they were growing. The main difference between the farm households was in the level of pesticides they used. “Farm surveys of randomly selected farm households that are cultivating the insect-resistant GM rice varieties demonstrate that small and poor farm households benefit from adopting GM rice by both higher crop yields and reduced use of pesticides, which also contributes to the improved health of farmers.” The study showed that the quantity and cost of pesticides applied to the conventional rice was eight to 10 times as high as that applied to the insect-resistant GM rice.

It also showed that the yields of the GM rice were higher that the conventional rice varieties.

The researchers also tracked the health effects of the insect-resistant GM rice. The surveys indicated that none of the farmers who had completely planted their farms with the GM insect-resistant rice varieties reported any adverse health effects from pesticide use in either 2002 or 2003. Among farmers growing plots of the GM rice and plots of conventional rice varieties, 7.7 per cent reported pesticide-induced illness incidents in 2002, and 10.9 per cent reported such cases in 2003. None of them reported being affected after working on plots with the GM varieties. “This study provides evidence that there are positive impacts of the insect-resistant GM rice on productivity and farmer health,” the researchers concluded.