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Soil ecological and economic evaluation of genetically modified crops

The possible future use of genetically modified (GM) plants in agriculture needs an in-depth investigation into the ecological and economic consequences. Following a state-of-the-art ecological risk assessment, this project will combine simple lab tests, multi-species model ecosystems and field studies to acquire mechanistic and realistic knowledge. This has so far not been done for soil. The investigation will provide an important input to those who need specifications on how to perform GM risk assessments. It will also inform farmers and the public who are on the alert to the possible ecological implications of GM farming. Economic aspects need to be clarified to enable an assessment of trade-offs in relation to ecological effects. The accumulated experience in the ECOGEN project will then be taken one step further by combining soil ecological studies with an economic evaluation. This would be carried out at the farm level in a rule-based model and will act as a decision support tool.

The objectives of the project are:
1) to carry out an ecological and economic comparison of integrated farming systems using genetically modified higher plants (GMHP) with a conventional farming system
2) to provide an ecological risk assessment of a GM and a conventional cropping system for the soil ecosystem based on single-species tests, multi-species tests and long-term field investigations
3) to adapt existing ecotoxicity testing tools to GM plant material and validate their use in a tiered risk assessment system applicable to Directive 2001/18/EC, Annex II, environmental risk assessment
4) to conduct an economic assessment of GMHP and conventional crops with respect to a quantification of the expected trade-offs between the two and the implications for the European Union's agriculture policy
5) to incorporate ecological knowledge from single-species tests, multi-species tests, field investigations and economic information from farming practices into a rule-based model to be used for predictions of economic decision-making processes and ecosystem behaviour.

Progress to Date
The project structure has been implemented at the research facilities involved and the three European experimental field sites are running.
The sampling programme covering the major soil fauna groups has been completed according to our plans. An experimental field site with Bt corn started during the ECOGEN proposal phase has been finalised after two years of investigating the microarthropod community.
The hitherto largely ignored soil ecosystem in GM cropping systems is gradually being subjected to thorough investigations. Moreover, the complete impact of GM crops, not only focusing on the GM plant itself but also on the accompanying agricultural measures, is being considered in the ecological effects assessments.

The effects of Bt corn on soil fauna were found to be quite ambiguous.


Scientist responsible for the project

Senior scientist PAUL HENNING KROGH
Vejlsoevej 25 Box 314
8600 Silkeborg
Denmark - DK

Phone: +45 89 201 588
Fax: +45 89 201 413


Project ID QLRT-2001-01666
Organisation NERI, Soil Fauna and Ecotoxicology Research Unit
Area 5.1.1
Start date 01 May 2002
Duration (months) 48
Total cost 3 107 787 €
Total EC contribution   2 113 716 €
Status Ongoing
Web address of the project

The partners

  • Centre Technique Interprofessionel des Oleagineuxmetropolitains, France - FR
  • National Environmental Research Institute, Denmark - DK

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