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Chemistry and the Environment Division (VI)


Number: 2001-024-2-600

Title: Impact of transgenic crops on the use of agrochemicals and the environment

Task Group
Gjis Kleter

Members: Elizabeth Carazo, Allan S Felsot, Caroline Harris, Arata Katayama, Harry Kuiper, Kenneth D. Racke, Baruch Rubin, Gerald R. Stephenson, Keiji Tanaka, John Unsworth, and Don Wauchope

Completion Date: 2007 - project completed


  1. Evaluation of data on the use of agrochemicals on transgenic crops, and comparison with treatment of traditional crops
  2. Evaluation of data on the ecological impact of transgenic crops in relation to changes in agrochemical use
  3. Environmental risk-benefit analysis of transgenic crop cultivation
  4. Comparison of regulatory frameworks for the introduction of transgenic crops with respect to risk/benefit assessment


Problem Statement
Cultivation of transgenic crops has been spectacular over the last 5 years. The estimated global area of transgenic crops has increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 44.2 million in 2000. Herbicide tolerant soybeans and cotton and insect resistant corn and cotton account for most of the transgenic crop acreage. Other commercial transgenic crops include herbicide tolerant canola and corn. Most of the transgenic crops are grown in the USA, Argentina, Canada, and China. In Europe commercial cultivation of GM crops is very limited, primarily due to concerns expressed by environmental and consumer groups.

Potential environmental benefits of the cultivation of transgenic crops are among others:
(i) less crop injury due to pests and diseases resulting in increased crop yields,
(ii) easier and more flexible weed/insect control,
(iii) reduction of mechanical soil treatment, and
(iv) selective replacement of agrochemicals by environmentally more friendly ones, and reduced use.

Potential environmental risks include
(i) gene transfer and outcrossing to related plant species,
(ii) greater reliance on herbicides and increased use,
(iii) build-up of resistance in pest insects,
(iv) negative effects on non-target species,
(v) shifts in application of agrochemicals and associated negative consequences for the environment, and
(vi) loss of biodiversity

There is still limited experience with cultivation of transgenic crops in relatively constrained areas, and information on the use of agrochemicals on these crops and the associated impact on the environment is still scarce.

In this project the extending database on the use of agrochemicals on transgenic crops will be analysed and assessed with respect to its environmental impact. On this basis a risk-benefit analysis will be made, which may contribute to a better understanding and assessment of the environmental issues involved in the introduction of transgenic crops and in an improved risk communication.

Data will be collected concerning the cultivation of transgenic crops for food and non-food uses, the use of agrochemicals on these crops, and possible effects on the environment. Shifts in use of agrochemicals (compounds/quantities, application modes and windows, consequences for air/ground water emission profiles) will be analysed and compared with uses on conventionally grown crops.

Changes will be analysed with respect to potential hazards and risks for the environment. Environmental Impact Quotients will also be calculated. Furthermore possible effects on the ecosystem will be analysed with respect to gene transfer, shifts in pest species, build-up of pest resistance, and effects on nontarget organisms.

The influence of pesticide use on transgenic plants will be analyzed with respect to altered plant metabolism, formation of new metabolites of agrochemicals, altered residue levels and associated consequences for the environment.

Transgenic crops to be investigated include soybeans, canola, corn, cotton, potato, wheat, and rice.

An analysis will be made of existing regulatory frameworks at the international level with respect to large scale environmental releases and possibilities of monitoring adverse effects.

Data sources will include published literature, reports from government monitoring programs, information generated by biotechnology firms, pesticide manufacturers, industry associations and extension services. Countries of interest are the US, Canada, Israel, Argentina, Australia and China.

Working Style
Cooperation will be sought with experts in toxicology, food chemistry, pest management, and agrochemicals. Furthermore connections will be established with OECD, EPA, USDA, the EU, grower associations, and industry groups. The majority of project work communication will occur via e-mail and phone conferences, and at least two face-to-face consultations will be required for project completion.

A first progress report was presented at the IUPAC Congress on the Chemistry of Crop Protection during 2002 in Basel. Since, the project has attracted a wide interest and has resulted in several publications, including a peer-reviewed article [Brimner et al., 2005, Pest Management Science 61, 47-52; doi:10.1002/ps.967], five conference proceedings, and a congress poster.
In addition, the project team convened an evening seminar during the IUPAC 2006 Crop Protection Chemistry Congress in Kobe, Japan. [see conference report, CI Jan 2007, p. 30]

Published reports
- Gijs A. Kleter, Raj Bhula, Kevin Bodnaruk, Elisabeth Carazo, Alan S. Felsot, Caroline A. Harris, Arata Katayama, Harry A. Kuiper, Kenneth Racke, Baruch Rubin, Yehuda Shevah, Gerald R. Stephenson, Keiji Tanaka, John Unsworth, and Sue-Sun Wong, "Altered Pesticide Use on Transgenic Crops and the Associated General Impact from an Environmental Perspective", Pest Manag. Sci. 2007, 63(11), 1107-1115; doi:10.1002/ps.1448.

- Gijs A. Kleter, Caroline A. Harris, Gerald R. Stephenson, and John Unsworth, entitled "Comparison of herbicide regimes and the associated potential environmental effects of glyphosate-resistant crops vs. what they replace in Europe," Pest Management Science, published online: 27 Dec 2007; doi:10.1002/ps.1513.

Other conference proceedings
- G.A. Kleter, R. Bhula, K. Bodnaruk, E. Carazo, A.S. Felsot, C.A. Harris, A. Katayama, H.A. Kuiper, K. Racke, B. Rubin, Y. Shevah, G.R. Stephenson, K. Tanaka, J. Unsworth, and S.S Wong, The effect of the cultivation of genetically modified crops on the use of pesticides and the impact thereof on the environment, in IUPAC/CICA-UCR/SFE-MAG International Workshop on Crop Protection Chemistry in Latin America: Harmonized Approaches for Environmental Assessment and Regulation, 14-17 February 2005, University of Costa Rica, San Jose, pp. 49-76 (2005).

- G.A. Kleter, R. Bhula, E. Carazo, A.S. Felsot, C.A. Harris, A. Katayama, H.A. Kuiper, K. Racke, B. Rubin, Y. Sheva, G.R. Stephenson, K. Tanaka, J. Unsworth, and S.S. Wong, Impact of transgenic crops on the use of agrochemicals and the environment, in Proceedings of the IUPAC-KSPS International Workshop on Pesticides 2003, October 13-16, Seoul, Korea, pp. 55-61 (2003).

- G.A. Kleter and H.A. Kuiper, Environmental fate and impact considerations related to the use of transgenic crops, in Chemistry of Crop Protection, Progress and Prospects in Science and Regulation, ed. by Voss G and Ramos G, Wiley, Weinheim, pp. 305-321 (2003).

- G.A. Kleter and H.A. Kuiper, Assessing the environmental impact of changes in pesticide use on transgenic crops, in Environmental Costs and Benefits of Transgenic Crops, Wageningen UR Frontis Series vol. 7, ed. by Wesseler J, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 33-43 (2004). [Online > Table of Contents > article 3a, 22 March 2007]

- G.A. Kleter, R. Bhula, K. Bodnaruk, E. Carazo, A.S. Felsot, C.A. Harris, A. Katayama, H.A. Kuiper, K.D. Racke, B. Rubin, Y. Shevah, G.R. Stephenson, K. Tanaka, J. Unsworth, R.D. Wauchope, S.S. Wong, Trends in pesticide use on transgenic versus conventional crops. ISB News Report, (August 2008), pp. 5-8. (2008) [Online]


The team is also involved in subsequent IUPAC project on the evaluation of food and feed safety implications of (altered) residues of pesticides applied on transgenic (GM) crops.
> see project # 2006-015-3-600

project completed

Last update: 30 September 2008

<project announcement published in Chem. Int. 25(3), 2003>


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