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Environmental risks of pesticides versus genetic engineering for agricultural pest control

By M. G. Paoletti, D. Pimentel

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This paper discusses the environmental risks of pesticides as compared to the risks associated with the application of genetic engineering and biotechnology in agricultural pest, plant pathogen and weed control. It is suggested that in terms of environmental and public health impacts, pesticides probably have a greater negative impact at present because of their more widespread use. The use of pesticides for pest control results in an estimated 26 million human poisonings, with 220 000 fatalities, annually worldwide. In the USA, the environmental and public health costs for the recommended use of pesticides total approximately $9 billion/year. Genetic engineering could promote improvements for the environment, however the current products have some serious environmental impacts. Relying on a single factor, like the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin that has been inserted into maize and a few other crops for insect control, leads to various environmental problems, including insect resistance and, in some cases, a threat to beneficial biological control insects and endangered insect species. A major environmental and economic cost associated with genetic engineering applications in agriculture relates to the use of herbicide resistant crops (HRC). In general, HRC technology results in increased herbicide use but no increase in crop yields. The heavy use of herbicides in HRC technology pollutes the environment and can lead to weed control costs for farmers that may be 2-fold greater than standard weed control costs.

Date 2000
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 12
Issue 3
Pages 279-303
ISBN/ISSN 0893-4282
DOI 10.1023/A:1009571131089
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Biotechnology
  2. Chemicals
  3. Control
  4. Corn
  5. Costs
  6. Developed countries
  7. Environment
  8. Field crops
  9. Genetic engineering
  10. Genetic manipulation
  11. Grasses
  12. Health
  13. Herbicides
  14. Insects
  15. Maize
  16. Mammals
  17. natural resources
  18. North America
  19. OECD countries
  20. peer-reviewed
  21. pest control
  22. Pesticides and Drugs
  23. pest resistance
  24. Plants
  25. pollution
  26. Primates
  27. United States of America
  28. weed control
  29. yields
  1. peer-reviewed