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The Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops

Frederik Noack, Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair, Food and Resource Economics Group, University of British Columbia

Jan 29 2024 | 11:00am to 12:00pm PT Bren Hall 1414 / Online

Frederik Noack sits on steps outside
Frederik Noack

Are technologies like genetically modified crops a boon or bust for biodiversity and the environment? Using rigorous methods applied to creative questions, Professor Noack’s research cuts through the chatter, providing crucial clarity on topics of enormous social and scientific importance.
—Ashley Larsen, Associate Professor, Bren School

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Increasing global food production while reducing the environmental impact of agriculture is one of the major challenges for the 21st century. New technologies such as genetically modified (GM) crops could contribute to the solution of this challenge. At the same time, adopting GM crops can lead to several indirect changes in agricultural production with potentially harmful environmental implications. Here, I present the results of two related studies.

In the first study, we estimate the causal impact of GM crops on bird diversity in the United States. We combine bird observations from the North American Breeding Bird Survey with data on GM adoption. This allows us to compare bird communities through time in areas with high exposure to GM crops to otherwise similar areas with low exposure to GM crops. We find that GM crop adoption has a weakly positive effect on the overall abundance and diversity of birds. However, we also find that the effect is heterogeneous across species groups, with potentially important consequences for bird community composition and associated ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes.

A significant challenge in quantifying the impact of GM crop adoption on agricultural expansion is the response of the non-adopters to the adopters. In the second study, we show that the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops by some countries has led to a global redistribution of agricultural production and its associated externalities. To estimate the effects of GM crop adoption on the global redistribution of agriculture, we develop a regression framework that captures local effects and the spillovers in a single reduced-form equation based on the recent trade literature. Our results show that local GM crop adoption has no impact on total agricultural area in adopting countries but positively impacts GM crop shares, indicating that GM crop expansion occurs at the expense of crops without GM varieties and not on non-agricultural land. 


Frederik Noack is an Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in UBC's Food and Resource Economics Group. He holds an undergraduate degree in ecology and a PhD in economics. 

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