A large study collaboration between U.S. and Swiss researchers confirmed what American agriculture has known for years: Genetically modified Bt corn has little impact on non-target insects and other organisms. The impact is especially smaller when compared to growing conventional corn and the pesticides needed to control threats. Steve Naranjo is a recently-retired scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. He says while they didn’t break a lot of new ground with those results, it’s the largest and highest-quality data analysis ever done to confirm those findings.
“It is a big deal. It’s not necessarily new news. I mean, the preponderance of evidence since this thing was introduced in 1996 was kind of pointed in that direction. But this is, perhaps, the most rigorous attempt to look at the data to answer the question as to whether or not there are non-target impacts. That was the focus of the study.”
The first Bt corn was introduced in 1996, and critics have suggested ever since that it also destroys other beneficial insects and other non-targeted organisms. He collaborated with two researchers from Switzerland with an eye on proving the benefits of GMO commodities to European regulators.
“In Europe, the only GM crop allowed to be grown is one type of Bt maize and nothing else. Whereas in many other parts of the world, like the U.S.. we have Bt corn, we have Bt cotton, we have herbicide-tolerant corn, we have herbicide-tolerant cotton, we have herbicide-tolerant soybeans. The technology has been adopted in some parts of the world with more gusto than in other parts of the world. And the colleagues that I worked with on this project are from Europe, and the point of it was more to educate the European regulators and the European scientists.”
Naranjo says they were very transparent during the study in hopes of convincing GMO opponents that the commodities are beneficial to people and the environment.
“There have been a lot of individual studies that have pointed to this conclusion that we used in this approach. We were very careful. We were very rigorous. We were very transparent. We involved stakeholders in the process so that, hopefully, even the detractors would save the veracity of this evidence and say, well, maybe we were wrong.”
Naranjo and his two Swiss colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to get their findings. They pulled together data from studies in 12 bibliographic databases, 17 specialized web pages, and the reference sections of 78 review articles that all met the highest research quality standards.