Biotech crops reduce use of pesticides–experts

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that up to 35 percent of the losses in the annual crop production worldwide are due to pests—insects, weeds, plant diseases, rodents and birds.  Of the estimated 1 million insects in the world, between 150 and  200 species frequently cause serious damage to crops.

When losses due to pests are combined with postharvest losses, worldwide food losses would amount to 45 percent. “This is almost one half of the world’s potential food supply,” the FAO pointed out.

This is the reason most farmers around the world use pesticide to control these pests.  For a long time, no one seemed to question the safety of pesticides.  Not until 1962, when marine biologist and writer Rachel Carson wrote the now classic Silent Spring.  In her book, she described how pesticides cause long-term hazards to birds, fish, other wildlife and humans, but provides only short-term gains to controlling the pests.

Despite her findings, pesticide use continues to soar.  “Farmers now apply abut one pound of pesticides per year for every person on the planet, 75 percent of it in industrial countries,” Peter Weber, a researcher with the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute reported some years back.

In the Philippines most farmers are using chemicals to control pests that attack rice.  “Pesticides are like bombs being dropped in the food web creating enormous destruction,” said entomologist Dr. K.L. Heong, who once worked with the International Rice Research Institute.

Pesticides are killing more than just the pests.  “Some pesticides harm the living organisms other than the targeted pest,” the Davao-based Technical Assistance Center for the Development of Rural and Urban Poor observed.  “Some travel to the food chain to bioaccumulate in higher organisms.”

Health experts claim pesticides can enter the human body through the lungs, digestive system or skin.  Depending on the pesticide, health effects can be immediate (acute) or they can occur after years of lower-level exposure.

Long-term effects of pesticides include skin disorders, damage to internal organs (liver, kidneys, lungs), increased sensitivity to pesticides and effects on the progeny.

Now, if Filipino farmers want to stop using pesticides to control those attacking their agricultural crops, all they need to do is plant biotech crops.

A report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) said farmers who planted biotech crops have reduced pesticide spraying.

There was a “decreased environment impact from herbicide and insecticide use by 19 percent,” the report read.  From 1996 to 2015 there was a reduction of pesticide applications by 8.1 percent.  In 2015 alone, a reduction by 6.1 percent was noted, it added.

The reduction was made possible through the use of biopesticides.  For years, many organic farmers have used a bacterial pesticide called Bt to control a variety of pests that attack agricultural crops.

Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a common soil bacterium so called because it was first isolated in the Thuringia region of Germany.  It produces a protein that paralyzes the larvae of some harmful insects.

Scientists, through genetic engineering, have taken the Bt gene responsible for the production of the insecticidal protein from the bacterium and incorporated it into the genome of plants.  As such, the plants have a built-in mechanism of protection against targeted pests.

Aside from corn, Bt is also introduced in cotton, poplar, potato, rice, soybean, tomato and, more recently, eggplant.  “The protein produced by the plants does not get washed away, nor is it destroyed by sunlight,” a briefing paper published by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology said.  “The plants are protected from the insects round the clock regardless of the situation.”

Since Bt crops are able to defend themselves against pests, the use of chemical insecticides is significantly reduced. A study conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture showed that 8.2 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients were eliminated by the farmers who planted Bt crops in 1998.

Currently, there are more than 200 types of Bt proteins identified with varying degrees of toxicity to some insects.

-Published in Business Mirror.  See original article link here.