Environmental impact of herbicide regimes used with genetically modified herbicide-resistant maize
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With the potential advent of genetically modified herbicide-resistant (GMHR) crops in the European Union, changes in patterns of herbicide use are predicted. Broad-spectrum, non-selective herbicides used with GMHR crops are expected to substitute for a set of currently used herbicides, which might alter the agro-environmental footprint from crop production. To test this hypothesis, the environmental impact of various herbicide regimes currently used with non-GMHR maize in Belgium was calculated and compared with that of possible herbicide regimes applied in GMHR maize. Impacts on human health and the environment were calculated through the pesticide occupational and environmental risk (POCER) indicator. Results showed that the environmental impact of herbicide regimes solely relying on the active ingredients glyphosate (GLY) or glufosinate-ammonium (GLU) is lower than that of herbicide regimes applied in non-GMHR maize. Due to the lower potential of GLY and GLU to contaminate ground water and their lower acute toxicity to aquatic organisms, the POCER exceedence factor values for the environment were reduced approximately by a sixth when GLY or GLU is used alone. However, the environmental impact of novel herbicide regimes tested may be underestimated due to the assumption that active ingredients used with GMHR maize would be used alone. Data retrieved from literature suggest that weed control efficacy is increased and resistance development delayed when GLY or GLU is used together with other herbicides in the GMHR system. Due to the partial instead of complete replacement of currently used herbicide regimes, the beneficial environmental impact of novel herbicide regimes might sometimes be reduced or counterbalanced. Despite the high weed control efficacy provided by the biotechnology-based weed management strategy, neither indirect harmful effects on farmland biodiversity through losses in food resources and shelter, nor shifts in weed communities have been demonstrated in GMHR maize yet. However, with the increasing adoption rate of GMHR maize and their associated novel herbicide regimes, this situation is expected to change in the short-term.