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Farmers say GM rice cuts pesticide illness
Tim Radford, science editor
Friday April 29, 2005
Small farmers in China growing GM rice reported higher yields than for conventional varieties, a lower use of pesticides, and less illness related to the use of the pesticides, Chinese and US scientists report today in Science journal.
In eight field trials in two consecutive years, the 69 farmers grew a rice genetically engineered to be resistant to stem borer and leaf roller, and also a rice fitted with an insect-resistance gene from a cowpea plant. They were not paid and made their own decisions about pesticide use; the research was funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
For comparison, the researchers also surveyed farmers who used conventional varieties, or who grew both types. All applied the same kinds of pesticides, but on a per hectare basis the quantity and cost of those applied to conventional rice was eight to 10 times higher.
Yields of one GM variety were 9% higher than normal; the harvest from the other was about the same.
The researchers also asked the farmers' families if they had headaches, nausea, skin irritation, or digestive upsets after spraying. None of the farmers who completely converted to GM crops had pesticide health problems in either 2002 or 2003. Of those that grew both GM and conventional varieties, 7.7% reported some illness in 2002, and 10.9% in 2003.
"This study provides China and other nations with objective, research-based information about whether GM food crops can actually improve farmer welfare," said Carl Pray of Rutgers University in New Jersey.