Modified Crops Touted

April 14, 2010  |  By SCOTT KILMAN

A report by the National Research Council issued Tuesday found that genetically modified crops have increased profits for U.S. farmers while reducing the environmental damage caused by agriculture.

Biotechnology is controversial among environmental activists, who worry that pollen from genetically modified crops can spread unwanted traits to organic farms. But the independent scientific group concluded that genetically modified crops on balance do less damage to the environment than conventional crops.

The Washington-based group, which gives scientific advice to the federal government, found that genetically modifying crops such as corn and soybeans to tolerate exposure to glyphosate-based herbicide has made it possible for many farmers to mechanically till their fields less often, which reduces soil erosion, as well as farming costs.

Many farmers no longer need to disturb the soil to kill weeds, because they can spray herbicide directly on their fields without harming their genetically modified crops.

At the same time, genetically modifying crops with a gene from a soil microorganism to make a natural insecticide has allowed many farmers to reduce their use of synthetic pesticides that kill beneficial insects such as honey bees.

“Genetically modified crops have had less adverse effects on the environment” than their conventional relatives, said L. LaReesa Wolfenbarger, a University of Nebraska biologist who studies the ecological effects of transgenic crops.

The 253-page report was launched in 2008 and researched by a ten-member committee of scientists, economists and a sociologist.

Read the entire article by Scott Kilman online at The Wall Street Journal.