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More Pesticides In Spite of Genetic Engineering
As regards the utilisation and evaluation of pesticides, several aspects are currently subject to a controversy: the use of genetically engineered cultivated plants and the prognostic quality of public authority risk assessment for the protection of the environment.
Without doubt, the use of genetically engineered cultivated plants that are resistant to herbicides allows for effective weed control. However, as a study by the US-American Environmental Protection Agency EPA reveals, this always entails high herbicide application rates. Use of herbicides does not only increase in the short term when cultivating resistant crops. Studies show that due to weeds developing resistances large amounts of herbicides are required also in the long term. The same applies to genetically engineered plants, which themselves produce insecticides for repelling harmful insects: the insects develop resistances against these insecticides.
Public authorities attempt to forecast the effect of pesticides in open land by using simple testing systems that often have little similarity with nature. This is fraught with incertitude and, for example, is illustrated by the relevance of certain insecticides with regard to the high death rate in bee populations. Even low concentrations reduce the nascence of queens and the bees' ability to find back to their hive. It is obvious that the tests relevant for approval are unsuitable for predicting these kinds of effects. This is true also for the effect of pesticides on aquatic populations.
The Helmholtz Association works on developing improved evaluation and forecasting processes for pesticides. At the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, for instance, the SPEAR indicator system was developed, linking the structure of a biocoenosis with the pollutant load. In addition, UFZ scientists provide advisory services to European institutions such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).