Environmental Risks of Pesticides Versus Genetic Engineering for Agricultural Pest Control

Abstract

Despite the application of 2.5 million tons ofpesticides worldwide, more than 40% of all potentialfood production is lost to insect, weed, and plantpathogen pests prior to harvest. After harvest, anadditional 20% of food is lost to another group ofpests. The use of pesticides for pest control resultsin an estimated 26 million human poisonings, with220,000 fatalities, annually worldwide. In the UnitedStates, the environmental and public health costs forthe recommended use of pesticides total approximately$9 billion/yr. Thus, there is a need for alternativenon-chemical pest controls, and genetic engineering(biotechnology) might help with this need. Diseaseand insect pest resistance to various pests has beenslowly bred into crops for the past 12,000 years;current techniques in biotechnology now offeropportunities to further and more rapidly improve thenon-chemical control of disease and insect pests ofcrops. However, relying on a single factor, like theBacillus thuringiensis toxin that has beeninserted into corn and a few other crops for insectcontrol, leads to various environmental problems,including insect resistance and, in some cases, athreat to beneficial biological control insects andendangered insect species. A major environmental andeconomic cost associated with genetic engineeringapplications in agriculture relates to the use ofherbicide resistant crops (HRC). In general, HRCtechnology results in increased herbicide use but noincrease in crop yields. The heavy use of herbicidesin HRC technology pollutes the environment and canlead to weed control costs for farmers that may be2-fold greater than standard weed control costs. Therefore, pest control with both pesticides andbiotechnology can be improved for effective, safe,economical pest control.

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Paoletti, M.G., Pimentel, D. Environmental Risks of Pesticides Versus Genetic Engineering for Agricultural Pest Control. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 12, 279–303 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009571131089

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  • environment
  • genetic engineering
  • biotechnology
  • pesticides
  • agriculture
  • pest control
  • risks