Grains Research and Development

Date: 02.11.2012

Growing support for gene technology

Author: Larissa Mullot
Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) logo

The Gene Scene

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) is an industry initiative established to increase public awareness of, and encourage informed debate and decision-making about, gene technology. The organisation is supported by a number of agriculture sectors and organisations, including the GRDC. 

Introducing ABCA

Launched in September 2012, the ABCA has been established to broaden the role of its predecessor Agrifood Awareness Australia Limited (AFAA) in the agricultural biotechnology sector.

ABCA aims to:

  • act as a national coordinating organisation for the Australian agricultural biotechnology sector;
  • increase public awareness of, and encourage informed debate about applying biotechnology, and in particular, gene technology in agriculture;
  • provide credible and balanced science-based information on biotechnology to help the public, especially farmers, make informed decisions about the application, use and future of gene technology in Australia;
  • provide research and information that places biotechnology and gene technology into context as another technology in Australian agriculture; and
  • encourage and share research to promote better understanding of agricultural biotechnology benefits.

ABCA is a joint initiative of the GRDC, AusBiotech, CropLife Australia and the National Farmers’ Federation.

High-yielding wheat gene find

CSIRO researchers developing wheat with genetically modified starch content to help make healthier food products have discovered a gene that increases yields by up to 30 per cent in greenhouse trials.

“With this technology, we see a more vigorous wheat with increased vegetative growth, larger seed heads and larger seeds,” says Dr Bruce Lee, CSIRO Food Futures Flagship director. “If we can also achieve significant yield increases in the field, this will have a major impact on food production on a global scale.”

The project is a partnership between the GRDC and CSIRO, and they have now entered into an agreement with Bayer CropScience to build on the discovery and further develop the technology.

“Increasing wheat yields in the water-limited environments that many Australian growers face is a significant driver for GRDC investments. This yield technology is an exciting discovery that could lead to a significant impact on wheat productivity,” says John Harvey, managing director, GRDC.

“We are committed to pursuing innovation in wheat varieties that will lead to increased productivity and meet the need for sustainable solutions in wheat production on a global scale. For example, by increasing yields and nutrient use efficiency and making plants more tolerant to stressful growing conditions, such as drought or heat,” says Dr Mathias Kremer, head of the BioScience business unit at Bayer CropScience.

Report highlights role of agricultural technologies

The importance of agricultural science and technology in meeting the world’s burgeoning demands for food, feed and fuel have been highlighted in the latest Agricultural Outlook report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The report indicates that agricultural production must increase by 60 per cent in the next 40 years to meet the rising global demand for food. This equates to an extra one billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million tonnes of meat per year by 2050 compared with 2005–07 levels.

Additional production would also be required to provide feedstock for an expanding biofuel market, which is set to consume an estimated 16 per cent of oilseed output, 14 per cent of cereals and 34 per cent of sugarcane by 2021. But less than five per cent more arable land is available to bring into production, and 25 per cent of existing farmland is already degraded.

The report also states that access to yield-enhancing technologies, such as crop protection and advanced plant breeding methods, would be critical to delivering these productivity gains.

American doctors reaffirm GM crop support

The American Medical Association (AMA) has reaffirmed its support for GM crops and foods. AMA’s updated policy statement also outlines its opposition to the mandatory labelling of GM foods.

According to the policy, the AMA “recognises the many potential benefits offered by bioengineered [GM] crops and foods, does not support a moratorium on planting bioengineered crops, and encourages ongoing research developments in food biotechnology”.

In relation to labelling foods with GM content, which is compulsory in many countries, such as Australia, the policy states: “there is no scientific justification for special labelling of bioengineered foods as a class, and voluntary labelling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education”.

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