Many U.S. farmers who grow genetically engineered (GE) crops are realizing substantial economic and environmental benefits—such as lower production costs, fewer pest problems, reduced use of pesticides, and better yields—compared with conventional crops, according to The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability, a new report from the National Research Council.

However, the report highlighted some potential drawbacks, such as the possibility that herbicide-resistant GE crops could develop more weed problems as weeds evolve their own herbicide resistance. To date, at least nine species of weeds in the United States have evolved resistance to glyphosate since glyphosate-resistant GE crops were introduced, according to the report. It recommends that farmers mitigate these risks by also using other proven weed and insect management practices.

The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability provides the first comprehensive assessment of how GE crops are affecting all U.S. farmers, including those who grow conventional or organic crops, the National Research Council said in a press release.

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Improvements in water quality could prove to be the largest single benefit of GE crops, the report says, because farmers who grow GE crops use fewer insecticides and herbicides that linger in soil and waterways. In addition, farmers who grow herbicide-resistant crops are more likely to practice conservation tillage, which improves soil quality and water filtration and reduces erosion.

The report noted several areas needing further research, including impacts on industries that rely on GE products, such as the livestock industry.

Copies of The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States are available from the National Academies Press.