By Graham Brookes, PG Economics Ltd, UK
When Romania joined the European Union (EU) in 2007 and adopted EU policies, its farmers were no longer allowed to use GM herbicide tolerant (to the herbicide glyphosate) soybeans that many had been using since original authorisation in 1999. Ten years on, this blog briefly examines the impact of this regulatory-based ‘denial of technology’ on the Romanian soybean sector.
Impact of using GM HT soybeans 1999-2006
During the 1999-2006 period, Romanian soybean farmers made significant financial gains from using this technology:
- The technology delivered an average yield gain of +23% from substantial improvements in weed control. Weed infestation levels, particularly of difficult to control weeds such as Johnson grass, had been very high in Romania, largely a legacy of the economic transition during the 1990s which resulted in very low levels of farm income, abandonment of land and very low levels of weed control. As a result, the weed bank developed substantially and was subsequently very difficult to control, until the GMHT soybean system became available.
- These yield gains resulted in an average increase in farm income of US$105/ha.
From an environmental perspective, the adoption of GMHT soybeans resulted in a small net increase in the volume of herbicide active ingredient (AI) applied, but a net reduction in the associated environmental impact, as measured by the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) load. More specifically, during the 1999-2006 period, the total volume of herbicide AI use was 2% higher than the level of use if the crop had been conventional (non-GM), but the field EIQ load had fallen by 11%.
Impacts post EU membership
From a farm productivity and profitability perspective, the ‘denial’ of access to the GMHT soybeans resulted in the loss of the significant yield and income gains referred to above. Not surprisingly, the area planted to soybeans fell significantly, to as low as 44,000 ha by 2010 (-77%) as farmers found soybeans a much less attractive crop to grow compared to other crops such as canola, sunflower or cereals.
At the national level, by 2010, the significant reduction in domestic soybean production resulted in 70% reduction in the volume of soybeans crushed, coupled with substantial increases in the volumes of imported soybeans and soymeal (eg, meal imports doubled to over 0.4 million tonnes). Whilst domestic production of conventional soybeans has partially recovered from the 2010 low point (eg, the area planted was 90,000 ha in 2015/16), this has mainly been driven by the provision of additional farm subsidies to encourage protein crop production. Nevertheless, imports of soybean derivatives such as soymeal continue to be significantly higher than 10 years ago.
From an environmental perspective, since the banning of planting of GMHT soybeans in 2007, the average amount of herbicide active ingredient applied per ha had increased by 80% (to 2011) and the average field EIQ/ha rating by 95% relative to 2006 usage levels on GMHT soybeans. This suggests a significant deterioration in the environmental impact associated with herbicide usage on soybeans since the GMHT technology was banned from usage.
 The EIQ distills the various environmental and health impacts of individual pesticides in different GM and conventional production systems into a single ‘field value per hectare’ and draws on key toxicity and environmental exposure data related to individual products. It, therefore, provides a better measure to contrast and compare the impact of various pesticides on the environment and human health than the weight of active ingredient alone. However, it should be noted that the EIQ is an indicator only (primarily of toxicity) and does not take into account all environmental issues and impacts.
Graham Brookes, PG Economics Ltd, UK
Graham is an agricultural economist and consultant with 30 years’ experience of examining economic issues relating to the agricultural and food sectors. He is a specialist in analyzing the impact of technology, policy changes and regulatory impact. He has, since the late 1990s, undertaken a number of research projects relating to the impact of agricultural biotechnology and written widely on this subject in peer reviewed journals. This work includes annual updates of a global economic and environmental impact of GM crops report, the impact of insect resistant maize in Spain and herbicide tolerant soybeans in Romania, the impact of GMO labelling and ‘GMO avoidance’ in Europe, the economic impact of GMO zero tolerance legislation in the EU, the cost to the UK economy of failure to embrace agricultural biotechnology, the economic impact of bio-safety legislation in Turkey and studies of the potential impact of using crop biotechnology in the Ukraine, Russia, Thailand and Indonesia.