Project Details Impact of transgenic crops on the use of agrochemicals and the environment

Project No.:
Start Date:
01 July 2002
End Date:
21 August 2007


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

    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 Congresson the Chemistry of Crop Protection during 2002 in Basel. Since,the project has attracted a wide interest and has resulted in severalpublications, 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 duringthe IUPAC 2006 Crop Protection Chemistry Congress in Kobe, Japan.[seeconference report, CI Jan 2007, p. 30]

    A final report has been submitted for publication, by Gijs A. Kleter,Raj Bhula, Kevin Bodnaruk, Elisabeth Carazo, Alan S. Felsot, CarolineA. Harris, Arata Katayama, Harry A. Kuiper, Kenneth Racke, BaruchRubin, Yehuda Shevah, Gerald R. Stephenson, Keiji Tanaka, John Unsworth,and Sue-Sun Wong, and titled “Altered Pesticide Use on TransgenicCrops and the Associated General Impact from an Environmental Perspective”,Pest Manag. Sci. 2007, 63(11), 1107-1115;doi:10.1002/ps.1448]

    Also forthcoming is the article by Gijs A. Kleter, Caroline A.Harris, Gerald R. Stephenson, and John Unsworth, entitled “Comparisonof herbicide regimes and the associated potential environmentaleffects of glyphosate-resistant crops vs. what they replace in Europe,”which will be published in Pest Management Science.

    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 effectof the cultivation of genetically modified crops on the use of pesticidesand the impact thereof on the environment, in IUPAC/CICA-UCR/SFE-MAGInternational 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 cropson the use of agrochemicals and the environment, in Proceedingsof the IUPAC-KSPS International Workshop on Pesticides 2003, October13-16, Seoul, Korea, pp. 55-61 (2003).

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

    – G.A. Kleter and H.A. Kuiper, Assessing the environmental impactof changes in pesticide use on transgenic crops, in EnvironmentalCosts and Benefits of Transgenic Crops, Wageningen UR Frontis Seriesvol. 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 – report published in Chem. Int. 30(2), 2008

    *project first announcement published in Chem. Int. 25(3), 2003