GENET archive


RISK ASSESSMENT: Bt-maize affects non-target crops negatively compared with unsprayed fields

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------


SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture, USA

AUTHOR: Press Release, by Laura McGinnis


DATE:   24.11.2008

------------------ archive: ------------------


Non-target insects are probably affected more by conventional insecticides than by crops that contain genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), according to the findings of a study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and cooperators. The findings were published recently in Public Library of Science ONE.

Bt crops such as maize and cotton are genetically engineered to produce insect-specific toxins. They target specific insect pests, but the researchers wanted to determine how these crops influence non-target insects in the environment.

To find out, scientists from ARS collaborated with researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Iowa State University and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Steven Naranjo, a research leader at the ARS Arid Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Ariz., and Jonathan Lundgren, an entomologist at the ARS North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, S.D., contributed to the work.

The scientists compared the abundance of groups of non-target insects. They first compared the abundance of these insects in Bt crops and non-Bt crops without any insecticides. They also compared the insect populations in both types of crops treated with insecticides. And they compared the non-target insect populations in Bt crops without insecticides versus the populations in non-Bt crops treated with insecticides.

They formed these groups of non-target insects with data drawn from a modified version of a public database created by Santa Clara University biologist Michelle Marvier and colleagues. The toxins examined included Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb in maize, Cry3A in potato and Cry1Ac and Cry1Ab in cotton.

The researchers observed considerable variability in the effects of Bt cotton and maize crops on non-target insects. However, the data within the groups were fairly consistent. The most influential factor was the insecticide applied. Collectively, insecticides such as pyrethroids, organophosphates, carbamates and neonicotinoids had larger negative impacts on non-target insects than did the Bt crops.

The researchers concluded that when it comes to killing non-target insects, no treatment at all has the least impact. Bt crops have considerably less impact on non-target insects than do conventional insecticides. Also, insecticides affect insect populations uniformly, regardless of whether they?re in Bt or non-Bt crop fields.

ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.



When comparing Bt plants to their non-transgenic counterparts without any additional insecticides, meta-analysis revealed no uniform negative or positive effects on ecological functional guilds. Predators were slightly lower in abundance in Bt cotton but no other effects were detected for other functional guilds in this crop. This negative effect on predators was not seen in the two other cropping systems; in fact, this guild was favored by Bt potato. The small negative effect on predators as a group was not driven by any common individual species that we analyzed but rather by more moderate reductions in two predaceous families (Nabidae and Coccinellidae), a pattern identified in several non-target studies [35], [36]. We detected no change in the abundance of aphids as a group, a common prey item for coccinellids, so common prey reduction probably does not explain the decrease of these predators. Reductions in target prey could be a contributing factor, especially for nabids
  [35], [36]; however, other explanations, such as sublethal effects of feeding on Bt pollen or other prey abundance or quality issues in Bt fields cannot be eliminated for either group [35]. We detected no significant effect size on predators as a group in maize; however, studies indicate a higher abundance of one common predator genus, Coleomegilla, in Bt fields compared to unsprayed non-Bt fields. Therefore, we identified a species-specific effect in Bt maize but no consistent effects on any of the functional guilds.

Our analysis corroborates the strong negative effect of Bt maize on specialist parasitoids reported in the literature [15]. However, a closer examination suggests that most of the parasitoid studies in this system focus on the abundance of M. grandii, which specializes on the target pest. From the limited number of studies on other parasitoids, there was no detectable effect on parasitoids; however, more studies will be needed to resolve whether there is a general effect on parasitoids (Appendix S3).




European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)

news & information

phone....... +49-531-5168746

fax......... +49-531-5168747

email....... news(*)

skype....... hartmut_meyer