Organic farming
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Summary of the study on health relevant and environmental aspects
of different farming systems:
organic, conventional and genetic engineering

InterNutrition, the Swiss Association for Research and Nutrition, has carried out a comparison based on published scientific papers concerning the biological, conventional and genetic engineering methods used in agriculture and nutrition. Biotrin has available a summary in English.

The key question in the study was whether consumer perception of organic, conventional and genetically modified food is corresponding with scientific findings.

We introduce the most important findings and conclusions of the study:

The most import findings

From a scientific viewpoint, organic foods are neither healthier nor safer than conventional or genetically modified products. Some studies show that organic foods may contain more fungal toxins than foods produced by conventional methods. Transgenic Bt maize varieties, on the other hand, occasionally exhibit noticeably smaller quantities of mycotoxins in the kernels than conventional varieties do.

In terms of nutritional composition and the effects on animal feeding, there are no significant differences between conventional and genetically modified feeds. Meat, milk and eggs from animals given GM feeds are just as harmless for human consumption as if they had come from animals fed on conventional feeds.

The problem of cross-fertilization by pollen (gene transfer) between genetically modified plants and related wild species as well as between transgenic and conventional crop varieties only arises with few important species of cultivated plants. Detailed studies must be undertaken on a case-by-case, place-by-place, plant-by-plant basis. Growing crops by various agricultural systems side by side has always been possible and will continue to be so in future.

The field studies carried out so far with transgenic, pest resistant crops do not confirm the environmental risks predicted by critics. For example, Bt maize varieties do not result in a temporary reduction in the number of beneficial organisms in the field, as can be observed with some synthetic pesticides.

Already shortly after their introduction transgenic plants prove to be a valid option for a farming approach that sustains resources and protects the environment. The savings achieved so far in pesticide use and the improvements in ground flora and fauna can be ranked alongside the efforts of integrated production and organic farming on behalf of a more sustainable agriculture.

Conclusions

The farming methods available today (organic, integrated and conventional, genetic engineering) all have their advantages and disadvantages. A direct comparison of the benefits and risks of the various systems and their products is only possible to a limited extent because of the lack of comparative studies. More research is necessary in this field in order to confirm previous results and to obtain reliable findings.

Since their introduction, genetically modified products have been subject to stricter safety regulations and are among the best analyzed of all foods. Their safety in terms of human health must be scientifically verified before their introduction to the marketplace. In the interests of consumer health, organic products and conventional foods should be subject to the same rigorous safety analyses as those that apply to GM products.

From Agronomic, health and environmental viewpoints, conventional, organic and genetic engineering farming methods should coexist. The different strategies help move towards a more sustainable agriculture. Only a flexible and specific combination of all useful approaches will enable the existing potential to be fully exploited.

An unilateral ban on transgenic breeding methods cannot be scientifically justified. It would be incomprehensible and short-sighted not to benefit from these new opportunities in order to overcome unsolved agricultural problems.

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