Sept. 29, 2008

Entomologist edits new book on sustainable pest control

A new book, co-edited by Anthony Shelton, Cornell professor of entomology, follows the legacy of Rachel Carson's groundbreaking "Silent Spring" -- the book credited with starting the environmental movement.

"Integration of Insect-Resistant Genetically Modified Crops Within IPM Programs," released in July, informs the debate about using genetically modified (GM) or transgenic crops to control pests. Published by Springer, the book explains how insect-resistant GM crops are an important component of integrated pest management (IPM) for sustainable farming practices.

"The positive impact of insect-resistant GM crops has been largely lost in the public discussion on biotechnology in agriculture," Shelton says. "For example, in the last 11 years, the deployment of insect-resistant GM cotton reduced the use of traditional insecticides by 23 percent, reduced environmental impact by 25 percent and provided an economic benefit to the agricultural community of $9.6 billion. This positive impact has been far reaching in developed and developing countries and is the reason the area planted with these crops continues to rise by double-digit growth rates annually."

IPM is a concept that developed in response to "Silent Spring" -- published in 1962 to highlight the harmful effects of some pesticides. IPM uses the most sustainable and environmentally friendly approaches available to control pests. Its tools include monitoring pest populations, breeding plants to withstand pest attack, judiciously spraying less harmful pesticides and using natural predators to control pests.

The book describes the development, adoption, and economic and environmental impacts of insect-resistant GM crops worldwide. Insect-resistant GM crops were first commercialized in 1996 and have since been grown on almost 500 million acres. In 2007, insect-resistant GM corn and cotton plants were grown in 22 countries on 104 million acres.

The book includes comprehensive reviews on cotton and corn, the only commercialized insect-resistant GM crops, as well as crops under development, including rice in China, and eggplant, cabbage and cauliflower in India. Chapters cover recent research showing that GM crops resistant to insect pests do not harm the pests' natural enemies. Other chapters discuss the economic and social impact of biotechnology crops on farmers worldwide, the influence of regulatory systems, and cultural and social pressures that affect the adoption of insect-resistant GM crops.

"This comprehensive book provides valuable information and analysis by many of the world's leading experts involved with integrating transgenic insect-resistant crops into IPM,"wrote Norman Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the father of the green revolution, in endorsing the book and stressing that "The products of biotechnology will be essential for moving agriculture forward to help meet the food and fiber needs of the growing world population."

The books other co-editors are Swiss entomologist Jörg Romeis and George Kennedy, who received his Ph.D. from Cornell and is a professor of entomology at North Carolina State University.

The book's release coincided with the 23rd International Congress of Entomology in Durban, South Africa and formed the basis for a major symposium at the congress.

Marissa Fessenden '09 is an intern with CALS Communications.