Data mining and GMOs

In order to make sound conclusions about different types of genetically engineered crops and to plan for the future, we’ll need to have sound data about any possible environmental effects of said crops. Researchers from a variety of institutions and disciplines* plan to collect that data. Harvesting Data from Genetically Engineered Crops**, published in the 25 April issue of Science, explains that we can use existing data about pesticide and fertilizer usage, water quality, and information about birds, amphibians, and other animals – if we can connect that data to what types of crops the farmers are planting. A news story, UA Scientists and Colleagues Call for More Access to Biotech Crop Data, has been posted by the U of Arizona. The authors conclude their proposition:

The United States has the world’s most extensive history of using GE crops and one of the world’s best continentalscale programs in environmental monitoring. Combining these two sources of information
provides an opportunity to lead the world in identifying agricultural pathways for the future that best serve people and the environment. Providing scientists access to data on GE crop use at the county scale is a small and relatively inexpensive step with enormous scientific and public benefits.

There’s not much to say about this, other than “Bravo!” No matter what the data shows, it will be valuable. For example, I’d like to know if there is a connection between use of Bt crops and numbers of birds in fields. I’d like to know which pesticides are actually used in what amounts on all of the different varieties of Bt and glyphosate resistant crops. With this knowledge, we can decide if we should restrict or encourage use of particular types of farming practices in order to produce the most human benefit with the least environmental impact.
* The authors are from the Environmental Studies Inst at Santa Clara U, the Dept of Entomology at U Arizona, the Dept of Botany and Plant Sciences at UC Riverside, the Dept of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, The Nature Conservancy, the Dept of Biology at Loyola U Chicago, and the Dept of Biology at U Nebraska.

** I don’t know if it’s legal for me to post a link to the pdf here. If you know the rules, please fill me in!


  1. Paul Gepts at UC Davis does not have a very positive opinion on GE crops, nevertheless, it is a very good idea to make this kind of data available. I wonder if this data would include the use of organic applications, too?

  2. Yeah, I had a few doubts about the study, such as: will the data be twisted to support a predetermined conclusion? I decided to leave them out in the spirit of optimism. I just hope that they have decent controls.

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