5.3 MYTH:

No-till farming with GM crops is environmentally friendly


Claims of environmental benefits from GM no-till farming are unsound

GM proponents claim that GM herbicide-tolerant crops, especially GM Roundup Ready (RR) soy, are environmentally friendly because they allow farmers to adopt the no-till system of cultivation. No-till farming avoids ploughing in order to conserve soil and water, and supposedly to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In no-till cultivation of GM Roundup Ready soy, weeds are controlled through herbicide applications rather than mechanically, through ploughing.

There are at least two problems with this argument:

  • No-till or low-till farming can be – and is – practised in chemically-based and agroecological farming. Farmers do not have to adopt GM crops or use herbicides to practise no-till.
  • Claims of environmental benefits for GM crops with no-till cultivation have been shown to be misleading. One study compared the environmental impacts of growing GM RR and non-GM soy, using an indicator called Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ). EIQ assesses the negative environmental impacts of the use of pesticides and herbicides on farm workers, consumers and ecology (fish, birds, bees and other beneficial insects). The study found that in Argentina, the negative environmental impact of GM soy was higher than that of non-GM soy in both no-till and tillage systems because of the herbicides used. Also, the adoption of no-till raised the EIQ, whether the soy was GM RR or non-GM. The main reason for the increase in herbicides used in no-till systems was the spread of glyphosate-resistant superweeds.40

We conclude that claims of environmental benefits from no-till farming with GM crops are unjustified.

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